SYDNEY: Australia’s borders will reopen to visitors on February 21, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Monday, removing arguably of the world’s tightest and longest-standing pandemic travel restrictions.
“It’s almost two years since we made the decision to seal the borders to Australia,” Morrison said during a national security cabinet meeting.
He stated that the borders will reopen to all visa holders “on February 21st of this year,” adding, “if you’re doubly vaccinated, we look forward to welcome you back to Australia.”
Australia’s borders will be closed in March 2020 in the intention of preserving the island nation from a worldwide epidemic.
For the most part, Australians have been banned from leaving, and just a few tourists have been granted entry waivers.
The laws have separated families, harmed Australia’s multibillion-dollar tourism economy, and sparked frequently heated disputes over the country’s position as a modern, open, and outward-looking society.
According to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, each month of border closures costs businesses an estimated $2.6 billion.
Rules for Australians, long-term residents, and students have increasingly been reduced in recent months.
Almost all remaining caps will be lifted as a result of the recent ruling.
It comes after the country’s long-standing “COVID-zero” policy was abandoned, vaccination rates increased, and the once-flagship track-and-trace system failed under the weight of an Omicron outbreak.
Only a few countries remain restricted to visitors, including Japan, China, New Zealand, and some Pacific Island countries.
‘Come and see us.’
The news was heartening for Australia’s travel and tourist industry, which had been struggling as visitor numbers dropped by about 98 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“We’re really thrilled about reopening,” said Tony Walker, managing director of the Quicksilver Group, which conducts cruises, diving, and resorts on the Great Barrier Reef.
“The previous couple of years have been really challenging for us,” he told AFP, inviting visitors from around the world to “come visit.”
During the pandemic, the company’s workforce shrank from 650 to 300.
Walker predicted that “it would take some time to recover” from the previous two years.
Given the low number of backpackers and working vacationers visiting Australia, many tourist firms around the country are suffering from personnel shortages.
Despite the announcement, domestic travel within Australia will remain restricted.
The huge state of Western Australia is still off-limits to most non-residents. Traveling from Sydney to Paris is now more convenient than travelling from Sydney to Perth.