Millions of Australians who are double jabbed are now free to travel without a permit or the need to quarantine on arrival in the country. The new rules, easing some of the world’s strictest coronavirus border restrictions, came into effect from 1 November after nearly 20 months.
Australian airports witnessed scenes of tearful family reunions, embraces, and laughter as passengers walked right into the arrival terminals to be greeted by emotional members, relatives and loved ones.
Many passengers who were on board on the first flights from Singapore and Los Angeles arrived in Sydney around 6am and were welcomed by family members holding sign boards with emotional messages. They were also gifted Australian wildflowers and chocolate biscuits by airlines’ staff.
“Just being able to come home without having to go to quarantine is huge,” Carly Boyd, who traveled from New York, told reporters at Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport, as Peter Allen’s unofficial national anthem I Still Call Australia Home played in the background.
“There’s a lot of people on that flight who have loved ones who are about to die or have people who died this week,” Ms Body added. “For them to be able to get off the plane and go see them straight away is pretty amazing.”
Ethan Carter, who has been out of the country for two years, said he was able to return to see his mother who has not been well.
“Little bit scary and exciting, I’ve come home to see my mum ‘cause she’s not well,” Mr Carter, who returned from Los Angeles, said. “So it’s all anxious and excitement and I love her heaps and I can’t wait to see her.”
Paul Wason, a customer service manager at Qantas, the first airline to land at Sydney airport on Monday, said it was a “huge day” for passengers and crew alike. “Very much mixed emotions, great emotions, lots of happiness, lots of sadness, lots of excitement as well,” Mr Wason said.
Scott Morrison’s government in Australia has had one of the world’s toughest responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Australia shut its international border in March last year, barring foreign tourists as well as its own citizens from either leaving or entering the country, unless granted an exemption.
This left the vast majority of Australian permanent residents and citizens stranded. The policy was also criticised as it prohibited people from taking care of ailing family members or attending funerals and other gatherings.
“It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” Mr Morrison said last month while announcing their relaxations.
His government is now hoping that vaccination rates are high enough in the country to mitigate the dangers of opening up its borders. As of 1 November, 77.5 per cent of Australians aged 16 and above are double vaccinated.
On Monday, 16 international flight are scheduled to arrive at Sydney’s airport while 14 are scheduled to depart, according to the airport operator. In Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne, five flights each are scheduled to arrive and depart.
Though Australians are now free to travel overseas, four Australian states and a territory have placed pandemic restrictions on crossing state lines as they have different vaccinations rate and health policies. States in western Australia remain largely cut off from the rest of the country while it is trying to protect its virus free status with only 63 per cent of the target population fully vaccinated — the lowest level of vaccinations in the country.
There are about 47,000 people who are abroad and registered with the authorities waiting to return home.
Currently, only Australia’s permanent residents and citizens will be free to enter the country. Fully vaccinated foreigners traveling on skilled worker and student visas will be prioritised over international tourists. But the government said that it was working “towards welcoming tourists back to our shores” to some extent before the year ends.
Additional reporting by agencies
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