In scenes reminiscent of the opening to Love Actually, tearful hugs and family reunions filled the arrivals hall at Sydney’s airport this morning as the first international flights landed in the country after the rules changed to lift quarantine for fully vaccinated residents.
Some Australians were returning after a 590-day ban on international travellers, implemented at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
From today, fully vaccinated international travellers (who are citizens or residents) no longer have to quarantine when arriving into the Australian states of New South Wales, Victoria or the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) - in other words, those containing major international airports in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
“Just being able to come home without having to go to quarantine is huge,” passenger Carly Boyd told reporters at Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport.
“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, so for them to be able to get off the plane and go see them straight away is pretty amazing,” she added.
But this doesn’t mean international travellers from all countries are now permitted to fly in - the major change today is for Australia’s fully vaccinated residents, who can travel freely in and out of the country with their proof of vaccination.
The move means that double jabbed Australian permanent residents and citizens can now leave the country for any reason without asking the government for an exemption.
Citizens from other countries around the world remain barred for the time being, though Australia is set to open a travel bubble with Singapore from next Monday, 8 November, with fully vaccinated Singaporeans able to enter without quarantine from 21 November.
Sydney had 16 scheduled inbound international flights on Monday and 14 outbound. Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, had five scheduled in and five out. Canberra had none.
The first regular international passenger flight to land in Australia was a Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore that landed before 6am local time, followed by a Qantas Airways flight that had flown 15 hours from Los Angeles.
“Emotional scenes today as Sydney reopens Australia to the world,” tweeted New South Wales minister for jobs, Stuart Ayres.
“Throw in the lifting of the regional travel restrictions and you can really feel that today is a landmark day in the reopening of our state.”
Meanwhile, national airline Qantas shared a moving video of families being reunited.
However, Australia’s cautious reopening to travel means some severe restrictions are still keeping families apart.
Passenger Ethan Carter, who arrived on one of the first Qantas flights into Sydney, spoke tearfully to reporters from 7News, saying that he was still unable to travel onward from New South Wales to the state of Western Australia to visit his dying mother.
“I’m really scared and emotional because I really want to see my mum as she’s not well,” Mr Carter said.
“The doctor says she hasn’t got long, and I just have to do everything I can to get to WA.”
Speaking live on TV, Mr Carter directly addressed Western Australia’s premier Mark McGowan, saying: “Mark, think of the people suffering mentally to see their family, that’s also a health issue, I know we have to protect people’s lives but you have to bring families back together.
“We respect you are trying to be safe but everybody needs to be together, please.”
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