Australia Reopens Its Borders, Visitors Welcomed at Airports

Australia, after nearly two years of pandemic-related closures, reopened its international borders to visitors inoculated against the coronavirus on Monday, welcoming holidaymakers and reuniting hundreds of individuals with their family and friends.

Monday will see over 50 international flights touching down in the country, with 27 landing in Sydney, the country’s largest city, as the tourist and hospitality sectors struggle to recover from the impact of COVID-19 measures.

“It’s a really exciting day, one that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, from the day I initially closed that border right at the outset of the pandemic,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Tasmania, the tourist-dependent island state.

Tourism, worth in excess of more than A$60 billion ($43 billion), is one of Australia’s most important sectors, counting for a workforce of around 5% of the country’s employment.

However, as the government closed its borders in March 2020, the sector was debilitated and it is hoped that it will rebound on the back of the reopening.

“It’s a party out here, music playing, smiles on people’s faces, they’ll be dancing soon, I’m sure,” Tourism Minister Dan Tehan told ABC from Sydney Airport as he handed out gift jars of iconic Aussie Vegemite sandwich spread and cute koala bear toys to passengers.

Tehan expressed optimism for a “very significant” tourist revival, noting that Qantas plans to fly more than 14,000 people into Australia this week.

Virgin Australia reported that domestic reservations were improving and that demand for international flights was still being assessed.

Since achieving higher vaccination levels, Australia, formerly a champion of COVID-suppression policy, has moved away from its fortress-style restrictions and continuous lockdowns, and has begun living with the virus.

In a gradual reopening exercise, skilled migrants as well as overseas students have been permitted to travel into Australia since November.

As Australia’s borders reopen, the Omicron coronavirus epidemic looks to have peaked, with hospital admissions slowly declining over the last three weeks.

Since the emergence of Omicron in late November, the majority of Australia’s pandemic total of roughly 2.7 million confirmed cases have been detected.
The total number of people that died was 4,929.

By lunchtime Monday, just over 15,600 new cases and 17 deaths had been reported, with two states expected to report later.