There were scenes that are otherwise only seen occasionally at airports: people kissing, returnees who receive flowers or are welcomed with heart balloons. Only this time the emotions radiated across a whole country.
Australia celebrated a reunion day on November 1st. For more than 19 months, almost 600 days, the country had closed its international borders. Families were separated, tens of thousands were stranded abroad. Even Australians were only allowed to leave their country in exceptional cases and with special permission. Now Australians and their closest relatives were able to enter and leave the country again.
At airports around the world, families embraced each other after the long separation; after all, 30 percent of the population were not born in Australia. So there are many people Down Under who have close family ties abroad. Machines from Los Angeles, Singapore and Tokyo landed in Sydney. “There were a lot of people on the plane whose relatives are dying,” said Carly Boyd, who flew back home from the United States, to the broadcaster ABC. Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke of a “great day for Australia”. He wrote on Facebook that Australia was now “ready to go”.
It is still unclear when tourists can come back to the country. The opening should take place gradually. And there are signs that it could happen this year. However, the regulations are already not that easy for travelers: Double-vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents of the states of New South Wales (Sydney), Victoria (Melbourne) and the seat of government Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) are now allowed to leave the country and return without a quarantine period . Other states will join these regulations in the coming weeks.
The island nation will initially remain closed to tourists from abroad, with the exception of New Zealanders and, from November 21, for visitors from Singapore. Depending on the vaccination rates and the number of cases, the travel permit is to be extended to other countries in the coming months. However, it is up to the individual states to give their consent to these regulations and to allow visitors into the country.
Travel from neighboring New Zealand to Australia is now possible again without quarantine. In April, the two island states created a bilateral corridor for quarantine-free travel – the “Trans-Tasman bubble”. However, this was initially suspended in July due to rising corona numbers in Australia.
About 64 percent of Australia’s 25.7 million people are considered fully vaccinated. For the state of Queensland, where vaccination rates have so far been well below the national average, announcements of the gradual opening of the border are still pending. Queensland Health Secretary Yvette D’Ath commented, “In states that already have 1,500 or more new cases a day, it is easier to let in people from abroad who might bring the virus.” Queensland recorded just under 2,100 cases during the pandemic, with seven patients dying. Of the total of around 172,000 cases in Australia, more than 95 percent were recorded in the two states of Victoria and New South Wales.
The Australian aviation industry is also relieved. Qantas Airline chief Alan Joyce said it was “wonderful to see Australians with loved ones being able to meet again after such a long time”. Qantas had most of the aircraft on the ground for more than 18 months. Now there is finally “light at the end of the tunnel”; he expects “many guests from all over the world,” said Joyce.
With material from dpa