People watch Qantas’ latest Boeing 747 airliner prepare for take off from Sydney Airport in July 2020.
SYDNEY: Australia will start reopening its borders next month, the country’s prime minister said on Friday, 18 months after citizens were banned from traveling abroad without permission. Scott Morrison said vaccinated Australians could return home and travel abroad “in a few weeks” at 80% vaccination targets are met. On March 20 last year, Australia introduced some of the world’s toughest border restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the past 560 days, countless international flights have been stranded and overseas travel has slowed down. Families have been divided on several continents, around 30,000 nationals have been stranded abroad and foreign residents have been stranded in the country, unable to see friends or relatives. More than 100,000 requests to enter or leave the country have been refused in the first five months of this year, according to data from the Interior Ministry. “Now is the time to bring Australians back to life. We are preparing for it and Australia will be ready for take off very soon, ”said Morrison. He also announced that vaccinated residents could be quarantined at home for seven days upon their return, avoiding the mandatory and expensive 14-day quarantine at the hotel. The exact timing of the border reopening will depend on when Australian states meet their 80% immunization targets, and most importantly on local political approval. The most populous state of New South Wales currently has 64% of people over the age of 16 fully vaccinated and has said it will meet the targets of 70 and 80% this month. But most Australian states, notably Western Australia and Queensland, still lack widespread community transmission, pursue a ‘Covid-zero’ strategy and remain closed to other parts of the country.
Responding to the announcement, Washington State Premier Mark McGowan said he did not expect international travel to return to his state until 2022 and that he would not set any date to relax even national borders. Describing life in Melbourne under the current lockdown as a ‘dark, gloomy, harsh and gloomy place’ compared to a ‘pre-Covid’ lifestyle in his state – he ignored concerns that this could mean locals from Sydney would travel more easily to Paris than to Perth. “If that means in the meantime, we don’t have massive deaths. We don’t have huge upheavals in our economy, ”he said. “Well, I think the choice is clear; we wait until it is safe. Australian airline Qantas hailed the move, saying it would resume flights to London and Los Angeles on November 14. Expats and foreign residents have greeted the news cautiously on social media forums. But experts say many Australians will remain cautious about booking travel for fear of instant blockages or other disruption. And the impact of this unprecedented period in the country’s history could be felt for years to come. “Australia has been a fortress nation with the drawbridge drawn to the rest of the world,” Tim Soutphommasane, academic and former Australian commissioner on racial discrimination, told AFP. “What we are seeing now with this announcement to reopen the borders is akin to Australia’s re-entry into the world, and that is long overdue,” he said. A Lowy Institute poll in May showed that a plurality of Australians supported the strict border measures, with 41% of them in favor. Only 18% said compatriots should be free to leave. “Over the past decades Australia has been a decidedly open, multicultural and cosmopolitan country. “It was a trading nation. But covid has seen the nation turn back the clock, ”Soutphommasane said. He added: “There has been a sense of parochialism and insularity that has shaped the nation’s response to Covid-19. The rest of the world might well think that Australia has fundamentally changed as a country. ”