Australia expects to ease international border restrictions for nationals next month.
The new travel policy will allow fully vaccinated Australian citizens and residents in states with a vaccination rate of at least 80% to travel overseas. Travelers who have received an approved vaccine will need to undergo a seven-day home quarantine period upon their return.
Australians will be able to prove their vaccination status with a QR code that is globally recognizable.
“It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said during a Friday press briefing. “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.”
Leaving the country is still off the table for unvaccinated residents and citizens unless they qualify for an exemption. The vaccine requirement does not apply to those under 12 and people cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
Australia implemented one of the world’s strictest controls on overseas incoming and outgoing travel since the pandemic began in 2020. Even movement between states for Australians is restricted.
Hundreds of thousands have failed to reach relatives’ death beads, missed funerals or weddings and have yet to be introduced to grandchildren because of restrictions aimed at keeping COVID-19 out of Australia.
“I do empathize with the Australians who have been denied the opportunity to travel overseas this year – it’s another reason why everyone should get vaccinated and we have to stick to the national plan that will see our international border open up – at this rate by Christmas at the latest,” Dan Tehan, Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, said during a National Press Club address last month.
Australia’s current travel restrictions also limit the number of citizens and permanent residents allowed to return each week and have left about 45,000 people stranded overseas. Under the new regime, the cap would only apply to the unvaccinated, who would still face a 14-day quarantine period at a hotel upon return.
The country plans to work toward quarantine-free travel for certain countries such as New Zealand “when it is safe to do so,” Morrison said. Australia has its closest relationship with New Zealand, whose citizens are considered Australian permanent residents. The neighbors allowed quarantine-free travel across the Tasman Sea before the delta variant outbreak began in Sydney in June.
New South Wales would likely become the first state to reach the 80% vaccination benchmark and Sydney’s airport the first to open to international travel, Morrison said. Sydney-based Qantas Airways announced international flights would resume from Nov. 14 to London and Los Angeles.
Australia on Friday also added China’s Sinovac and Indian-made AstraZeneca shots known as Covishield to a list of vaccines that Australians can take and be recognized as fully vaccinated.
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Can U.S. travelers visit Australia?
Australia’s borders are currently closed to all travelers. Entry to the country remains only available for those who are exempt (e.g. travelers escorting Australian citizens or permanent resident minors) or have been granted an individual exemption.
Exempted travelers from the U.S. need to provide a negative COVID-19 test, must quarantine and undergo health screening procedures in place at airports and other ports of entry.
The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs website says the country is working “towards welcoming tourists back to (its) shores.”
The Australian Tourism Export Council, which represents a sector that made 45 billion Australian dollars ($33 billion) a year from international tourists before the pandemic, said the end of the travel ban paved the way for visitors from around the world returning by March.
“It marks a shift in thinking within both the government and community sentiment to reengaging with the world,” the council’s managing director Peter Shelley said in a statement.
►Which EU countries are open to US tourists?:A breakdown of EU travel restrictions by country
The U.S. Department of State assigned Australia a level 3 status on Sept. 13, urging travelers to reconsider because of COVID-19-related restrictions.
Australia reported nearly 49,000 COVID-19 cases in the past 28 days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Contributing: Associated Press