Australia welcomes the world back as it reopens borders to vaccinated
Move calls time on the last main component of the country's response to the Covid-19 pandemic
Sydney — Australia said on Monday it will reopen its borders to vaccinated travellers this month, ending two years of misery for the tourism sector, reviving migration and injecting billions of dollars into the world No 13 economy.
The move effectively calls time on the last main component of Australia's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which it has attributed to relatively low death and infection rates. The other core strategy, stop-start lockdowns, was shelved for good in December.
The country had taken steps in recent months to relax border controls, like allowing in skilled migrants and quarantine-free travel arrangements — “travel bubbles” — with select countries such as New Zealand.
But the reopening, which takes effect on February 21, represents the first time since March 2020 that people can travel to Australia from anywhere in the world as long as they are vaccinated.
“If you're double-vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back to Australia,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a media briefing in Canberra.
The tourism industry, which has relied on the domestic market that has itself been heavily affected by movement restrictions, welcomed the decision, which comes three months before Morrison is due to face an election.
“Over the two years since the borders have been closed the industry has been on its knees,” said Australian Tourism Export Council MD Peter Shelley.
“Now we can turn our collective efforts towards rebuilding an industry that is in disrepair,” he added.
International and domestic tourism losses since the start of the pandemic totalled A$101.7bn, according to government body Tourism Research Australia (TRA). International travel spending in Australia plunged from A$44.6bn in the 2018-19 financial year to A$1.3bn in 2020-21, TRA said.
Shares of tourism-related stocks soared as investors cheered the prospect of a return to profit growth. Shares of the country's main airline, Qantas Airways, jumped 5% while shares of travel agent Flight Centre Travel Group surged 8%.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement the company is looking at flight schedules to determine ways to restart flights from international locations soon.
As elsewhere in the world, Australian Covid-19 cases have soared in recent weeks due to the Omicron variant, which medical experts say may be more transmissible but less virulent than previous strains.
But with more than nine in 10 Australians aged over 16 fully vaccinated, new cases and hospitalisations appear to have slowed, the authorities say.
The country reported just more than 23,000 new infections on Monday, its lowest for 2022 and far from a peak of 150,000 about a month ago.
Morrison said that the government will would send up to 1,700 Australian Defence Force personnel to fill staffing shortages in the aged care sector, after complaints of understaffing and fatigue due to increased pressures brought by the pandemic.
About 2.4-million cases have been recorded in Australia since the first Omicron case was detected there in November. Until then, Australia had counted only about 200,000 cases. Total deaths stand at 4,248 since the pandemic began.
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