TRAVEL NEWS – February 7, 2022: Australië will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated tourists from February 21. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that today, ending some of the world's strictest and longest-running pandemic travel restrictions.
"It's been nearly two years since we made the decision to close the borders to Australia," Morrison said at a media briefing Monday.
“If you have been double vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back to Australia.”
Australië closed its borders in March 2020 to protect themselves from a growing COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, Australians have been banned from leaving for most of the time and only a handful of visitors have been given exemptions to enter.
The rules have split families, hammered the country's large tourism industry and sparked at times bitter debates about Australia's status as a modern, open and outward-looking nation. With the rollout of its vaccination program last year, the Morrison government has slowly relaxed rules for Australians, long-term residents and students.
Almost all restrictions are lifted
On Monday's decision, almost all remaining limits will be lifted. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said it "greatly welcomed" the move.
“The Asia-Pacific region has been very cautious about approaching border restrictions so far, but in recent weeks we have seen growing momentum towards easing travel restrictions – in the Philippines, Thailand, and to some extent New ZealandPhilip Goh, IATA's regional vice president for Asia-Pacific said in a statement.
“We urge other governments in the Asia-Pacific to look similarly to further easing their border restrictions so that airline companies can accelerate their much-needed recovery and maximize their economies.”
Tim Soutphommasane, a sociology professor at the University of Sydney, Australia, said the reopening of the borders meant Australia "can reconnect with the world". But challenges remain, he warned.
“We may be seeing the beginning of the end for Fortress Australia, but psychologically the country still has a long way to go,” Soutphommasane told Al Jazeera.
“The pandemic has caused Australia to withdraw from seeing itself as a place of refuge, sheltered from the rest of the world. With a highly vaccinated population, Australia should be sure of reopening. But there is still a lot of caution and fear as the country is still learning to live with the virus. †
For most of the pandemic, Australia followed what it called a "COVID-zero" policy, which included strict rapid lockdowns. But it left the policy after the vaccines rolled out.
About 79 percent of Australia's population has now received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the country has continued to ease curbs even as the Omicron variant started to ramp up infections.
The past week has seen a slowdown in daily infections and hospital admissions, with Australia reporting just over 23.000 new cases on Monday.
The figure marks the lowest number of daily cases this year and is well below the peak of 150.000 about a month ago.
About 2,4 million cases have been registered since the first Omicron case was discovered in Australia in November. Until then, Australia had counted about 200.000 cases.
About 4.248 people have died from the virus in Australia since the start of the pandemic.