Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that Australia will reopen its borders for fully vaccinated tourists from February 21.
The reopening of the borders will see international travellers return to Australia after nearly two years of border closures and travel restrictions because of the pandemic.
This will mark the end of some of the harshest border control measures implemented globally after Australia shut its borders in March 2020 to protect itself against a surging Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking at a media briefing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia is looking forward to welcoming back double vaccinated travellers after almost two years of border closures.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) also welcomed the move, with its Regional Vice President for Asia Pacific Philip Goh saying that other governments in the Asia Pacific could also follow suit and ease border restrictions to maximise benefits to their economies.
During the prolonged period of travel restrictions, Australians were barred from leaving the country and only a handful of foreign visitors were granted exemptions to enter Australia.
Such strict border control measures split families and crippled Australia’s tourism industry – a key contributor to the Australian economy.
However, following the rollout of the vaccination programme last year, Australia has slowly relaxed its strict stance on travel restrictions for Australian citizens, long-term residents and students.
And following the announcement to reopen borders for fully vaccinated tourists, the remaining caps are set to be lifted as well.
Almost 94 per cent of the Australian population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and more than 95 per cent of Australians have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Such high vaccination rates have allowed Australia to push ahead with plans to ease travel restrictions, even as the Omicron variant drove up infection rates in the country.
Tourist operators who had been lobbying the Australian government to prioritise the return of tourists voiced their joy at the border reopening announcement.
Australian Tourism Export Council managing director Peter Shelley said tourism businesses will rejoice at the news of borders being reopened for international travellers, as it would allow Australia’s tourism industry to recover.
Last year, Australia announced plans to relax border restrictions in November as vaccination rates increased in the country.
Skilled migrants and international students were prioritised over tourists to return to Australia at the time, but the staged border reopening plan was postponed after the first Omicron cases were identified.