Australia expects to ease both border and hotel quarantine restrictions for nationals next month.
The new travel policy will allow fully vaccinated Australian citizens and residents in states with a vaccination rate of at least 80% to travel overseas and, as announced Friday, skip hotel quarantines upon returning to Sydney, if they test negative for COVID-19 before flying to the city.
“We can’t live here in a hermit kingdom. We’ve got to open up and this decision today is a big one, but it is the right one to get New South Wales connected globally,” New South Wales state Premier Dominic Perrottet said days after Sydney ended a 106-day lockdown.
Sydney’s airport is the first Australian international airport to reopen because New South Wales has the highest vaccination rate of any state. It is unclear whether returning Australians will be able to avoid hotel quarantine in other states by landing in Sydney then catching domestic flights across state lines.
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“It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “We’ve saved lives. We’ve saved livelihoods. But, we must work together to ensure that Australians can reclaim the lives that they once had in this country.”
Australians will be able to prove their vaccination status with a QR code that is globally recognizable.
Leaving the country is still off the table for unvaccinated residents and citizens unless they qualify for an exemption. The vaccine requirement does not apply to those under 12 and people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
Australia implemented one of the world’s strictest controls on overseas incoming and outgoing travel since the pandemic began in 2020. Even movement between states for Australians is restricted.
introduced to grandchildren because of restrictions aimed at keeping COVID-19 out of Australia.
Prime Minister Morrison said on Friday that parents of Australians would be reclassified as immediate family to help ease that.
“I do empathize with the Australians who have been denied the opportunity to travel overseas this year – it’s another reason why everyone should get vaccinated and we have to stick to the national plan that will see our international border open up – at this rate by Christmas at the latest,” Dan Tehan, Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, said during a National Press Club address last month.
Australia’s current travel restrictions also limit the number of citizens and permanent residents allowed to return each week and have left about 45,000 people stranded overseas. Under the new regime, the cap would only apply to the unvaccinated, who would still face a 14-day quarantine period at a hotel upon return.
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The country plans to work toward quarantine-free travel for certain countries such as New Zealand “when it is safe to do so,” Morrison said. Australia has its closest relationship with New Zealand, whose citizens are considered Australian permanent residents. The neighbors allowed quarantine-free travel across the Tasman Sea before the delta variant outbreak began in Sydney in June.
Upon Friday’s announcement of the relaxed quarantine restrictions, Qantas Airways said international flights between Sydney, London and Los Angeles would resume Nov. 1, two weeks earlier than first scheduled.
Australia has added China’s Sinovac and Indian-made AstraZeneca shots known as Covishield to a list of vaccines that Australians can take and be recognized as fully vaccinated.
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Australia’s borders are currently closed to all travelers. Entry to the country remains only available for those who are exempt (e.g. travelers escorting Australian citizens or permanent resident minors) or have been granted an individual exemption.
Exempted travelers from the U.S. need to provide a negative COVID-19 test, must quarantine and undergo health screening procedures in place at airports and other ports of entry.
The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs website says the country is working “towards welcoming tourists back to (its) shores,” but the prime minister has ruled out any time this year.
The Australian Tourism Export Council, which represents a sector that made $33 billion a year from international tourists before the pandemic, said the end of the travel ban paved the way for visitors from around the world returning by March.
“It marks a shift in thinking within both the government and community sentiment to reengaging with the world,” the council’s managing director Peter Shelley said in a statement.
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The U.S. Department of State assigned Australia a level 3 status on Sept. 13, urging travelers to reconsider because of COVID-19-related restrictions.
Australia reported more than 56,500 COVID-19 cases in the past 28 days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Contributing: Associated Press