Australia’s Borders Reopen to Tourists But Things Aren’t Back to Normal Just Yet

australias borders reopen international tourists

Almost exactly two years after Australia slammed shut its international borders, tourists are once again welcomed back to our shores.

Australia opened up to holidaymakers today, February 21, 2022, repealing the last of the COVID-era travel restrictions that have separated us from the rest of the world since March 2020.

People arriving from anywhere in the world can now enter Australia without the need to quarantine, except for Western Australia, which is set to open up in March.

It’s a significant and highly emotional milestone in our progression through the pandemic, as the shutting of borders marked the first real signs of international trouble as the new coronavirus spread across the globe two years ago. Now, with borders wide open, normality is slowly returning to the country and the world, which is a huge relief not least of all for the tourism and hospitality industries which have been well and truly rocked during COVID.

Already, there have been heartfelt reunions of friends and family members separated for years by the pandemic at international airports up and down the country. Sydney airport had DJs playing this morning with free jars of Vegemite and toy koalas being handed out to the arrivals.

Granddaughter Charlotte, hugging her granddad for the first time in two years, told Nine: “I’ve missed him so much and I’ve looked forward to this trip for so long.” It’s enough to get you all misty-eyed.

International borders have been open to certain countries and to those on certain visas for some time however. In November, those on working holiday visas, business visas, and refugee visas were allowed back into the country, with further restrictions easing in December. Now though, the new rules bring us almost entirely in alignment with pre-COVID travel rules.

Of course, this does not mean that the pandemic is over, or that we need to take COVID less seriously, far from it. However these measures give us a clear sign of where we are headed as a country and, hopefully, will ease us back into the relatively care-free living of 2019.

What Are the Rules?

Those coming into the country for a holiday will, of course, be subject to all of the normal holiday visa requirements which differ from country to country but typically allow foreigners to stay for up to a year in the country.

Those wishing to come over will need to be fully vaccinated — that’s two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine which is approved by the TGA — or hold a valid medical exemption for not being vaccinated.

Those who are unvaccinated will still need to complete the mandatory seven to 14 days in hotel quarantine, depending on which country they arrive from.

Arrivals will also need to take a PCR or a rapid antigen test within the first 24 hours of arrival and cannot take public transport to their accommodation. Once the test is negative, they are free to do as they please.

What Are the Issues?

Well, the pandemic isn’t over. Flight operators are still not working at full capacity and may take several months to get up to speed. This means flights are more expensive than they were pre-pandemic and this, coupled with the fact that we’re in the tail end of summer, means that tourists wont start clogging up the beaches in their droves for a while.

In addition, while Australia is open, many countries, including China and New Zealand, still have heavy travel restrictions on their citizens. This will again limit the number of people coming into the country, at least for the time being.

There’s also the issue of vaccines which is likely to complicate matters. Many of the more popular vaccines, like Russia’s Sputnik jab, China’s Sinopharm, and the US’ Johnson and Johnson vaccine, are not recognised by Australian health authorities. This means tourists without a course of either Pfizer, Astrazeneca, Moderna, and now Novavax, will not be allowed into the country.

Finally, the virus likely has other plans in store for us. New variants are almost certainly going to emerge at some stage and this could throw a spanner in the works of our reopening strategy. It’s not guaranteed that these will be milder, although the general trend seems to be in this direction, so Australia and with world will need to remain vigilant and could respond with familiar measures if there was a significant outbreak.

Australia is also expected to see case numbers climb significantly as we head into winter, which again could weaken support for mass tourism and open borders. It’s unlikely though that the federal government would restrict tourism unless the situation got really bad and Australia is in a much better position than Europe was during its winter COVID outbreak.

Still, for now, we’re very much on the path back to normality and, hopefully, this pandemic will soon all be a bad dream.

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