Australians are being allowed to travel overseas without COVID-19 restrictions for the first time in almost 600 days. Previously they needed government permission to go overseas under strict measures designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
After more than 18 months, Australia is reconnecting with the world as vaccination rates increase. There were tearful reunions at Sydney Airport as the first overseas passengers landed after restrictions came to an end.
Australians can now travel freely overseas without needing official permission.
Returning travelers flying home into the states of New South Wales and Victoria no longer face mandatory hotel quarantine.
They must, however, be double vaccinated and only Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families can return home at this stage. Australia will reopen quarantine-free entry to fully vaccinated Singaporeans from Nov. 21, but it is unclear when other foreign nationals, who have been mostly banned since March 2020, will be permitted to enter.
Thousands of Australians have been stranded overseas during the pandemic by some of the world’s toughest border controls. Authorities placed limits on the number of travelers allowed back because of constraints on the quarantine system.
Melbourne Airport has also been preparing for the resumption of large-scale passenger numbers.
Chief executive Lyell Strambi said pandemic border closures have been hard on staff.
“We have not really stopped flying, so we have been able to keep things working and making sure that everything is in great shape,” Strambi said. “But the stop-start nature of the whole episode we have been through has been really tough. In particular for the employees of the airport. We would normally have 20,000 people working at the airport. I think a few times there we were down to as low as 500 people. So, it has been really hard on those individuals in particular.”
Internal border controls remain in parts of Australia. Residents in Sydney and Melbourne, for example, can now fly freely to Paris, France but not to Perth in Western Australia.
Travelers from New South Wales and Victoria, which have been at the center of delta variant outbreaks this year, can only enter Western Australia with an approved exemption permit and must be double vaccinated. Queensland state authorities plan to ease their internal border restrictions on Dec. 17.
Australia has diagnosed 170,000 coronavirus cases during the pandemic, and 1,700 people have died. More than 77% of eligible Australians have been fully vaccinated.