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Australia to open borders for the first time since the pandemic started

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Australia to open borders for the first time since the pandemic started

After 18 months of closed borders, Australia finally appears to be reopening to the outside world. Indeed, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on 1st October, the opening of the country’s borders. International borders will therefore open for states achieving a vaccination rate of over 80% of the eligible population. The state of NSW is expected to reach that threshold in a few days and has announced it will open its borders on 1st November 2021. Victoria is expected to meet that target in November. Read on for more information about the current situation and what to expect in the weeks and months to come.

Borders to open soon

Last July, Scott Morrison announced that all states and territories had agreed on a national plan to reopen international borders. This plan aimed for 4 phases with vaccination thresholds to be reached in order to progress to the final phase, where covid would be treated like “any other infectious disease”. The plan was to take several months to fall into place, but the arrival of the Delta strain sped things up.

Indeed, the Delta strain has forced the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra to go into lockdown. As a consequence, this has increase the vaccination rates in the states of NSW, Victoria and ACT. Thus allowing the threshold of 80% of the vaccinated population to be reached more quickly. Sydney just came out of a 13-week lockdown on October 11. NSW, the most populous state, should hit its 80 per cent vaccine milestone in the coming weeks, which means the state will be able to reopen its borders.

Initially, the national plan provided for an opening of borders when the states and territories AND the entire national territory would have reached 80% of people vaccinated. NSW announced the opening of its borders when it reached the 80% threshold, even though the rest of the country did not reach that figure. A decision endorsed by the Federal government.

Moreover, S. Morrison announced on 11th October a fast-tracked plan to reopen international borders. Australia’s international borders will re-open for vaccinated travellers in NSW as early as November 1. Australians and permanent residents who have received double doses of vaccine will no longer need to apply for an exemption to depart the country. They will be able to self-quarantine at home for seven days upon their return to Australia. Australian nationals abroad will be able to return to Australia more easily with the removal of arrival caps into the country through NSW.

However, the opening of borders does not apply to all states and territories. Indeed, only states that have reached the 80% threshold of people over 16 years of age vaccinated will be able to reopen their border.

Sold out flights following PM announcement

The government’s plan to open its international borders next November has prompted an immediate surge in overseas flight bookings.

“It is time to give Australians their lives back, Australia is ready to gradually reopen its borders”

Scott Morrison

Skyscanner said visitors from Australia increased 195% within hours of the government’s announcement. They report a 133% increase in bookings.

Qantas airline responded by announcing it would resume international flights to London and Los Angeles on November 14. The company confirmed that their first flight to London on November 15 was sold out on the same day it was announced.

The company has since announced additional return flights on the same route in response to demand. From mid-November, the company will propose 3x weekly flights between Sydney and Los Angeles and 3x weekly flights between Sydney and London.

However, ticket prices are significantly more expensive. Flights to Australia are still limited at the moment which causes an increase in prices. Airlines are waiting to know the dates of full reopening of borders before rescheduling a large number of flights from Europe or the US to Australia. There is therefore not much availability on flights from Europe or the US to Australia. Most airlines have yet to announce additional capacity at this point. Qantas flights from Melbourne and other cities are not expected to restart until mi-December. Date of restart of flights which had been initially indicated by the airline company. The company has announced regular flights to destinations like Singapore, New Zealand, Fiji, Japan, Canada from mi-December.

In any case, Qantas has announced that all passengers will need to be fully vaccinated and return a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure to travel to Australia. It is very likely that the travel rules will be the same for other airlines flying to Australia.

Relaxed quarantine rules for vaccinated travellers

Important: Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced that Fully vaccinated arrivals touching down in NSW from overseas will no longer have to quarantine from 1st November 2021.

Currently, any traveler entering Australia must comply with a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine. Morrison said the mandatory hotel quarantine (costing about $ 3,000 per person) will be replaced with seven days of home quarantine.

For now, this plan is only being considered for vaccinated Australians or permanent residents returning to Australia. Some states are testing different “home quarantine” systems with double-vaccinated Australians. Fro example, South Australia is currently testing an electronic bracelet system to make sure the home quarantine is working properly.

It is not yet clear at this stage whether these quarantine rules will apply to skilled migrants, students, or backpackers arriving in Australia. But the move away from 14 days of hotel quarantine for vaccinated travellers is a crucial step before international travel can resume.

Unvaccinated travellers will still have to quarantine at their own expense for 14 days in hotels provided for this purpose.

When can tourist and WHV makers will be able to travel to Australia?

At present, no date has been set for welcoming international tourists back.

Morisson announced that after the Australians, priority would be given to international students and skilled migrants to enable them to return to the country. The government hopes for the return of foreign students and skilled migrants by Christmas time. The government expects the borders to reopen for all international travellers shortly after and is working to welcome tourists to Australia.

Australian immigration is at its lowest level since World War II due to restrictions in place since March 2020.

One thing is certain, it will be necessary to be vaccinated to enter the country. The vaccine will need to be on Australia’s approved vaccine list. Morrison said CoronaVac (Sinovac) and Covishield (AstraZeneca / Serum Institute of India) are now TGA-approved vaccines. Other approved vaccines are Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen COVID-19 vaccines.

Australia tough restrictions currently in place

For the past 18 months, travel restrictions have trapped most Australians and permanent residents at home. In March 2020, Australia introduced some of the toughest travel restrictions of any democracy in the world on people entering and leaving the country.

Australians have had to request an exemption to leave the country. Indeed, if you are an Australian citizen or a permanent resident you cannot leave Australia unless you have an exemption. To get one, you must meet at least one of the following:

  • your travel is as part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of aid
  • your travel is for your business/employer
  • you are travelling to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia
  • you are travelling outside Australia for a compelling reason for three months or longer
  • you are travelling on compelling or compassionate grounds
  • your travel is in the national interest
  • you are ordinarily resident in a country other than Australia.

Since March 2020, thousands of international flights have been grounded and international travel has been reduced to an absolute minimum. Hundreds of thousands have been separated from their loved ones, have failed to reach relatives’ death beads, missed funerals. Nearly 40,000 Australians are still stranded abroad because of arrival caps.

According to figures from Home Affairs, more than 100,000 requests to enter and leave the territory have been lodged since the start of 2021.

Thanks to this extremely strict policy, Australia estimates that it has saved more than 30,000 lives. Indeed, since the start of the pandemic Australia recorded 1,448 deaths and 130,000 cases of covid.

However, with the arrival of the Delta strain in NSW and Victoria, these two states have had to abandon their “covid-zero” policy. By mid-year, the vaccination rate was still very low in Australia. The population did not feel threatened, the supply of doses of Pfizer arrived only in September and the reputation of the AstraZeneca vaccine was tarnished by cases of thrombosis.

The states of Sydney and Melbourne were therefore successively plunged into long lockdowns. NSW has now reached 76% vaccination (2 doses) allowing Sydney and the state to lift its lockdown. Melbourne and the state of Victoria, are still in lockdown with over 1,500 cases of covid per day and 61.5% vaccination (2 doses – vic.gov.au). Melbourne recently became the longest city in the world in confinement with 256 days.

The appearance of the Delta strain undermined the Zero Covid strategy and led to an acceleration of the vaccination.

Other states, which have succeeded in pursuing their “Covid-zero” strategy by closing their internal borders, intend to remain closed to the rest of the country. Queensland and Western Australia threatened to keep their borders closed until vaccination rates are even higher than those set at the federal level (potentially 90%).

By November 1st, it will be easier for people in Sydney or Melbourne to travel to London or Los Angeles than to go to Perth or Brisbane.

What to expect once borders open

At this point, nothing is certain and it is still difficult to make predictions. However, it is highly likely that trips will significantly different from what we have experienced in the past.

It now seems clear that it will be necessary to be vaccinated to come to Australia (at least for the coming year, unless you agree to do a 14-day quarantine in a hotel ..). It seems that you will need a Visible Digital Seal before travelling. The VDS is a 2D barcode issued at a federal level, that contains your coronavirus vaccine status.

It is also very likely that several PCR tests will be requested. To come to Australia, you have to do a pre-departure test. Then a test on arrival and 2 more tests in the following days. PCR travel tests in Australia cost $150.

It is also likely that you will need to allow more time for your trips with extended check-ins. Aviation experts warn that there will be longer, patience-sapping queues at passport control booths in airports.

Aviation analyst and associate professor at RMIT Chrystal Zhang warns that Australians are in for a “bumpy start” when international travel resumes.

Then it’s clear that wearing a mask is not going to end anytime soon. So you might as well invest in a good quality mask for a trip of more than 24 hours. However Qantas will soon launch direct flights between London and Perth (or Darwin). A flight of 14,500km, and lasting about 17 hours! Food and drink services will be dialled right back, particularly in economy.

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