SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday (October 1) that starting next month an 18-month ban on Australians traveling abroad will be lifted, easing one of the further COVID-19 restrictions. hard imposed worldwide.
The reopening of the international border for citizens and permanent residents will be linked to the establishment of home quarantine in all eight Australian states and territories, Morrison said, meaning that some parts of the country will reopen earlier than others.
The first phase of the plan will focus on getting vaccinated citizens and permanent residents out of Australia, and additional changes are expected to allow foreign travelers to enter the country.
“It is time to bring Australians back to life. We have saved lives,” Morrison said during a televised news conference. “We have saved livelihoods, but we must work together to ensure that Australians can get back the lives they once had in this country.”
Australia had closed its international border in March 2020.
Since then, only a limited number of people have been granted permission to leave the country for critical commercial or humanitarian reasons.
Citizens and permanent residents have been allowed to return from abroad, subject to quota limits and a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel on their own. Some high-profile exceptions have also been granted for entry for commercial purposes, including Hollywood actors to shoot movies and TV shows.
Families have been divided across continents: an estimated 30,000 citizens were stranded abroad and foreign residents were stranded in the country unable to see friends or relatives.
More than 100,000 requests to enter or leave the country were denied in the first five months of this year alone, according to Interior Department data.
QUARANTINE AT HOME
Morrison also announced that vaccinated residents could remain in home quarantine for seven days upon return, avoiding the current mandatory and costly 14-day hotel quarantine. People who are not vaccinated will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine in a hotel when they return.
He expects the first home quarantine systems to be up and running in November, but the schedule will be set by individual states and territories.
The exact timing of the border reopening will also depend on when Australian states reach their 80% vaccination targets and, crucially, local political approval.
The most populous state in New South Wales currently has 64 percent of those aged 16 and over fully vaccinated and has indicated that it will hit targets of 70 and 80 percent this month.
But most Australian states, notably Western Australia and Queensland, do not yet have widespread community transmission, are following a “COVID-zero” strategy, and remain closed to other parts of the country.
Australian flag carrier Qantas welcomed Friday’s announcement and said it would. restart flights to London and Los Angeles on November 14.
Morrison said his government was working to quarantine free travel with countries like New Zealand when “it is safe to do so.”
An Australian government source said plans to allow foreign visitors to enter the country were being discussed, but it was not yet possible to set a schedule.