Canberra: The Australian government has outlined plans to lift a pandemic ban on its vaccinated citizens travelling overseas from November. However, no date has yet been set for welcoming international tourists back. Travel restrictions have trapped most Australians and permanent residents at home over the past 18 months. They would be removed when 80 per cent of the population aged 16 and older were fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday.
Australia introduced some of the toughest travel restrictions of any democracy in the world on people entering and leaving the island nation March 20 last year.
Most Australians have had to argue for rare exemptions from the travel ban to leave the country. There are a few exceptions from the ban including government employees and essential workers. Tourism is never accepted as a reason to cross the border.
Hundreds of thousands have failed to reach relatives’ death beds. Many have missed funerals or weddings. There are others who are yet to be introduced to grandchildren because of restrictions aimed at keeping Covid-19 out of Australia.
New South Wales would likely become the first state to reach the 80 per cent vaccination benchmark. Sydney’s airport will be the first to open to international travel, Morrison said.
“We’ve saved lives. We’ve saved livelihoods, but we must work together to ensure that Australians can reclaim the lives that they once had in this country,” Morrison stated.
Sydney-based Qantas Airways announced international flights would resume from November 14 to London and Los Angeles.
Morrison however, offered no clue to when other nationalities would be welcome to visit Australia. “We’ll be working towards complete quarantine-free travel for certain countries, such as New Zealand, when it is safe to do so,” he said.
Australia has its closest relationship with New Zealand, whose citizens are considered Australian permanent residents. The neighbours allowed quarantine-free travel across the Tasman Sea before the delta variant outbreak began in Sydney in June.
A cap on the number of Australian citizens and permanent residents allowed to return each week has left 45,000 people stranded overseas. It is aimed at reducing pressure on hotel quarantine, which the more contagious delta variant had made more difficult to manage.
The cap would only apply to the unvaccinated under the new regime. Fully vaccinated Australians would be able to quarantine at home and for only a week instead of the current two weeks in a hotel.
Australia added Friday China’s Sinovac and Indian-made AstraZeneca shots known as Covishield to a list of vaccines that Australians can take and be recognised as fully vaccinated.
Travel restrictions would not be lifted for Australians who chose not to be vaccinated. People who could not be vaccinated for medical reasons or children too young to get the jab would have the same privileges as those inoculated.
While Australia’s international borders will soon open, several state borders remain closed indefinitely.