Australia will begin to reopen its borders next month, the country’s prime minister said Friday, 18 months after citizens were banned from travelling overseas without permission.
Scott Morrison said vaccinated Australians would be able to return home and travel overseas ‘within weeks’ as 80 percent vaccination targets are met.
‘The time has come to give Australians their life back. We’re getting ready for that, and Australia will be ready for takeoff, very soon,’ Morrison said.
On March 20 last year Australia introduced some of the world’s toughest border restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
For the last 560 days countless international flights have been grounded, and overseas travel has slowed to a trickle.
Families have been split across continents, an estimated 30,000 nationals were stranded overseas and foreign residents were stuck 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 Department of Home Affairs data.
‘The time has come to give Australians their life back. We’re getting ready for that, and Australia will be ready for takeoff, very soon,’ Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. The PM announced the nation’s border restrictions will be relaxed next month as the country approaches an 80 percent vaccination rate
Anti-lockdown protests have been held across the country, but Melbourne has been one of the main epicentres of discontent and anti-lockdown sentiment
Recent months have seen a wave of anti-lockdown protests in Australia as citizens rebel against the harsh lockdown rules (Pictured: protester arrested by Melbourne police on September 25)
Melbourne’s citywide lockdown will remain in place until 70 per cent of Victorians aged over 16 are double-vaccinated, which is forecast for October 26
Morrison also announced that vaccinated residents would be able to home quarantine for seven days on their return, dodging the current mandatory and costly 14-day hotel quarantine.
Unvaccinated Australians will still have to complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine stint in hotels or designated facilities upon their return.
Aussies who cannot be vaccinated including those under 12 or with a medical condition will be treated as vaccinated for the purposes of their travel.
The exact timing of the border reopenings will depend on when Australian states reach their 80 percent vaccination targets, and crucially on local political approval.
The most populous state of New South Wales currently has 64 percent of those aged over 16 fully vaccinated and has indicated it will hit 70 and 80 percent targets this month.
‘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 said.
But most Australian states – most notably West Australia and Queensland – still have no widespread community transmission, are persuing a strategy of ‘Covid-zero’ and remain shut to other parts of the country.
Friday’s announcements could mean that within a month it is easier for those in Sydney or Melbourne to travel to London or New York than to go to Perth or Brisbane.
Australian flag carrier Qantas welcomed the decision, announcing it would restart flights to London and Los Angeles on November 14.
Expats and foreign residents gave the news a cautious welcome on social media forums. But experts say many Australians will remain cautious about booking travel for fear of snap lockdowns or other disruptions.
And the impact of the unprecedented period in the country’s history could be felt for years to come.
‘Australia has been a fortress nation with the drawbridge pulled up to the rest of the world,’ Tim Soutphommasane, an academic and former Australian race discrimination commissioner told AFP.
Protestors take part in a Reclaim The Line rally at Parramatta, in Sydney, Friday, October 1, 2021. Protestors are rallying against mandatory Covid vaccinations in the workplace
Demonstrators gather during an anti-lockdown protest and police officers stand guard in Melbourne last week. Hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters clashed with police in Melbourne, leaving at least four people injured and more than five dozen in custody. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse more than 2,000
‘What we’re seeing now with this announcement of borders being reopened is akin to Australia re-entering the world, and it’s long overdue,’ he said.
A Lowy Institute poll in May showed that a plurality of Australians backed the tough border measures, with 41 percent of those in support.
Only 18 percent said fellow nationals should be free to leave.
‘Australia in recent decades has been an emphatically open and multicultural and cosmopolitan country.
‘It has been a trading nation. But Covid has seen the nation turn the clock back,’ said Soutphommasane.
He added: ‘There has been a sense of parochialism and insularity that has shaped the nation’s response to Covid-19. The rest of the world may well be looking at this thinking that Australia has changed fundamentally as a country.’
Locked down Sydney left leaderless after corruption resignation
The leader of Australia’s most populous state resigned Friday amid a corruption investigation, leaving Sydneysiders – deep in months of lockdown – without a political leader.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would leave parliament after an anti-corruption body announced an inquiry into allegations against her.
‘My resignation as premier could not occur at a worse time, but the timing is completely outside of my control,’ Berejiklian told media in Sydney.
‘I do not want to be a distraction from what should be the focus of the state government during this pandemic, which is the wellbeing of our citizens. It always has been and always will be.’
Berejiklian has been one of the most prominent faces of Australia’s pandemic response, fronting cameras daily as the federal government was largely sidelined.
A state corruption watchdog is investigating allegations including whether she favoured a former boyfriend, then a member of parliament, in the awarding of grants in his electorate.
The projects included funding for the Australian Clay Target Association in and the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga, a small New South Wales town.
Berejiklian denied the allegations and said the inquiry into events that occurred between 2012 and 2018 had come ‘in the most challenging weeks of the most challenging times in the state’s history’.
Since late June, Sydney’s over five million residents have been under stay-at-home orders, with plans to end the lockdown slated for October 11.
Daily case numbers have begun to decline from a peak earlier this year but the state is still reporting over 800 cases a day.
The conservative leader had helmed the state for seven years, including through Australia’s worst bushfire season and the entirety of the pandemic.
Her approval ratings rocketed in late 2020 as the state managed to avoid the ravages of the first wave, but recent opinion polls had seen her support from voters dip after the arrival of the Delta variant and spiralling lockdowns.
Her replacement will be decided by members of the ruling Liberal party.
A tearful Gladys Berejiklian has resigned as NSW premier and slammed the state’s corruption watchdog for investigating her