Australia has announced that, starting next month, it is loosening some of the restrictions on international travel for Australians. The new policy, announced last week by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, will allow fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents of the country to travel abroad.
Vaccinated travelers returning to Australia will be subject to a seven-day stay home quarantine, instead of spending 14 days in quarantine in hotel isolation. Unvaccinated traveler are still required to quarantine for the full two weeks under the restrictions that have been in place since the country effectively closed its doors to international travel in March 2020.
The new rules go into effect as each of the country’s eight states and territories reaches a threshold where 80 percent of the population has received at least one dose of an approved vaccine. That means different regions may reopen on different schedules.
Currently 55 percent of Australians 16 and older have received the require dosage to be considered fully vaccinated and first dose rates are approaching 80 percent, allowing the government to finalize plans to reopen the borders.
New South Wales, which includes Sydney, boasts a vaccination rate that is expected to top 80 percent within days, and so is likely to be the first region to reopen. Other states which have also closed their borders, not only to international travel, but to one another, are concerned that reopening prematurely may introduce major outbreaks which have so far been avoided.
Reportedly, Western Australia and Queensland may keep their internal borders closed to other parts of the country with high delta variant infections.
The vaccines that have been cleared for use include the four previously approved – Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – and two more recently added to the list – China’s Sinovac and India’s Covishield.
The announcement signals a move away from Australia’s strict “zero-Covid” strategy, which has been effective at keeping infection rates among the lowest in developed nations. However the rules have kept thousands of citizens and permanent residents locked out of their own country, or left to deal with complicated and expensive quarantine measures.
So far the new rules apply only to Australian citizens. Foreign travelers, regardless of vaccination status, are still restricted, and in his announcement, Morrison gave no timeline for when other countries would be welcomed back.
However he did say that his government is working on plans to establish quarantine-free travel with certain countries. High on the list would be the resumption of its travel bubble with New Zealand, which had been opened up in April only to be paused in July due to spikes in infection rates in both countries.
Following Morrison’s announcement, Australia’s flag carrier Qantas Airways that it would restart some international flights in mid-November, a month earlier than planned.