We Have A Date! Australia Will Open To Tourism February 21

During much of the pandemic Australia was closed off to the world. Citizens couldn’t leave, except for a period of time to fly to New Zealand (and were threatened with prosecution if they used New Zealand as a gateway to other countries). Tens of thousands of Australians were stranded abroad, until they could schedule quarantine in state facilities. Australians were only permitted to leave – and return – starting this past fall.

The country started to see cases of Covid-19 they couldn’t stop with the Delta variant, and the arrival of Omicron meant over 100,000 cases a day earlier this month – in a country with a population the size of Texas. They’re heavily vaccinated, and ICU levels are similar to when the country faced 1/50 the number of cases just a few months ago.

Now, with substantial background immunity in additional to vaccination, the country is preparing to re-open its borders to tourists. The nation’s Prime Minister has announced a February 21 re-opening to tourism:

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced fully vaccinated travellers will be allowed back into the country from February 21.

A high-level meeting of the federal national security committee met on Monday to discuss when the border could reopen to international tourists. …But two years after he first shuttered the borders, Mr Morrison declared double vaccinated arrivals would be welcomed back.

There’s not yet clarity on whether arriving tourists would need to test in advance or travel, or on arrival as well, and whether there would be any quarantine rules. It appears unvaccinated travelers would likely be able to apply for exemption with proof they “cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.” (Don’t expect an exemption for personal beliefs contrary to vaccination.)

Here the Prime Minister is correct, the country is no longer ‘trying to keep the virus out’ after having had over 100,000 cases per day in a country whose population is roughly the size of Texas’. And vaccinated travelers aren’t riskier than those people already in the country:

“The fact is here in Australia, the variant is here in Australia. And for those who are coming in who are double vaccinated, they don’t present any greater risk than those who are already here in Australia,” he said.

“It’s a sensible and I think very important move for us to make as we sort of, as best as we possibly can this year drive Australia back to a position of as much normality as we can achieve.”

After two years of being closed there will be some who doubt the re-opening plan, the country isn’t open until it’s open, and there was a recent well-publicized case of rejecting entry to someone with
a visa (with vaccination exception). So there’s still some risk. Nonetheless, I continue to book award travel to see family – and a target of February 21 is far more hopeful than what I’ve been working towards.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Mark Rascio

    Yes, you are so right. I too treasure the freedom and personal liberty I have to visit the graves of my mother and wife who both gave up their lives to COVID. Thankfully the cemetary has no rules requiring a mask, otherwise I would certainly not visit. Their position reinforces America’s cherished values and it helps business too.

  2. @ John Phelan

    John, surely you are being shamefully irresponsible by encouraging potential visitors to disregard state COVID rules (in your first post you say follow the rules of the country and then you change your mind in the second post and say don’t bother and offer misleading information)? WTF?

    Have you considered that it is the business owner who can be subjected to a substantial fine if they allow customers on site without proof of vaccination? You obviously have no respect for such folk.

    The QLD state government does indeed require businesses to collect information (including vaccination action status) per the check in app (or alternate if they can’t use it for some reason).

    Here in FNQ, our local beach bar does take this seriously – the staff check vaccination when you go to the bar to buy a drink – at busy times they give you a sticker.

    Our local family run Italian restaurant also takes this seriously – the owner is very conscious of the risk of a substantial fine for non compliance and checks every patron upon entry.

    The manager of our local tavern set up a one entry system so staff could check patrons upon entry.

    There are examples reported in the media of establishments copping the c. USD5000 fine.

    A gentle reminder that hospitality and tourism businesses can be reliant on short term (< 12 months) casual labour and such often drawn from temporary visa holders.

    These are the very workers who were denied access to JobKeeper payments by the federal government, just another one of their grossly incompetent failings at governance during the pandemic.

    In fact the government told temporary visa holders to go home.

    Now things may be done differently in the northern parts of the Gold Coast, noting that the local member for Surfers Paradise irresponsibly circulated a cartoon in social media likening COVID (Alpha) to mild flu with the chief medical officer wearing a Nazi SS cap. It may be unsurprising that enclaves of right wing covidiots behave badly – they have great political role models in the likes of Craig Kelly (now left the LNP) and George Christensen and Matt Canavan and Sarah Hendersen, former PM Tony Abbott suggesting that we let the old and vulnerable perish, and now have even The Heath Minister himself diminishing the relevance of COVID deaths in the elderly, which is not surprising since he just mucked up the booster roll out to that sector.

    Given the tuopidty that pervades the Liberal-National-LNP I can understand why somebody brainwashed by the catholic-right axis can offer irresponsible advice.

    Meanwhile, my wife goes to work (disability care) and has to face the threat of COVID in her workplace every day.

    John, Covidiots such as yourself are putting her and her clients at risk.

    One of her clients cannot be vaccinated for health reasons.

    Also a gentle reminder that there are vulnerable folk who have yet to get their booster shots, including those in aged care who account for most of the current wave of mortality (another
    stupefying failing of our stroll out PM, ScoMo and his bumbling team).

    Now the exit from Omicron and the need for QR readers, masks and the like in part depends upon the population being able to self test using Rapid Antigen Tests (RATS). Of course these are almost impossible to access – memo to Scotty from Marketing – do your job, mate, stop spending all of your time on PR spin and do your job.

    John – your post is a disgrace and a shameful misrepresentation of your country.

  3. @platy

    Laws – I think it’s common knowledge that one has to comply with the laws and norms of a jurisdiction they find themselves in. Nothing about what I said implied otherwise. I clarified that ‘paper’ wasn’t the only format US vaccination records are maintained in. I even went so far as to say “I can’t speak to the universal interoperability of these systems”. You’re just bloviating.

    Vaccination – So you are conceding that @DavidF’s numbers were all wrong? That “90%” isn’t in the data at all, that there isn’t a difference of “over 20%”?

    Using NY Times data, in your words — “relative to total population”, 85% of Australians of all ages have taken at least one dose. 75% of Americans have taken at least one dose. Exactly as I previously stated – 75% of Americans are vaccinated. 85% of Australians are vaccinated.

    Testing – I’m fully aware of Australia’s former reporting standards. I’m not sure how prior under-reporting is really either 1. Helping your “case” of Australia being a pandemic success story or 2. Rebuking the 304 per 100,000 current case rate.

  4. @ Ty

    I’ve read that some in the US have had problems getting their vaccination records into electronic format (I have vague memories of Gary himself having this issue – maybe I’ve misremembered).

    We don’t know yet what the requirements will be when Australia opens up.

    I don’t necessarily agree with every perception of DavidF on Australia and the pandemic, but your personal attacks on him are particularly vile, hence my response. There are others herein that also make gratuitously nasty comments about our country. It is not surprising that some arrive at a stereotype of dumb Americans when some of you behave so badly, display utter ignorance about other countries and pretend that your COVID response has been anything other than utterly shameful.

    It is to @ Gary Leff’s utter shame that he fails either to moderate or counter such. It diminishes his strengths in reporting travel news and frequent flyer commentary.

    If you want credibility when citing data, then qualify your dataset.

    Now to testing data. Without a systematic testing regime none of us have any idea on the extent of the Omicron variant within the community. Where do have some idea on hospitalisation rates, ICU rates and mortality rates, accepting that in some cases people were initially hospitalised for other reasons and their COVID diagnosis was made using routine testing.

    Regarding earlier (Alpha and Delta) waves of the pandemic and the period when Australia kept COVID mostly at bay and with minimal loss of life – the rate of positive test results was a minuscule fraction of total tests undertaken. If you undertake 10,000 tests in a day in one state and get zero or very few positive cases, clearly there is no significant underestimate.

    This in itself shows that the infection rate was under control. Furthermore, contact tracing was undertaken for close and casual contacts. Known outbreaks were stymied.

    ALL of the Australians I know are utterly dumbfounded that a country with so much wealth, talent, resources and exceptional people has ended up with 900,000 COVID deaths. Some Americans seem to obsess about freedoms and freedom of speech and then some ditch any sense of responsibility in using such and would seem rather to let their compatriots die of a manageable disease than take responsibility for their community.

    On the other hand, many others are apparently appalled.

  5. It’s 2022 and we brought segregation BACK!

    They said it couldn’t be done, but large central governments did it!
    Congrats to everyone!

  6. You’d have to be crazy to trust Australia as a tourist after what they’ve put their own people through.

  7. Is “clarity” nails on a chalkboard for anybody else in the corporate world?

    Why have awkward constructions revolving around “clarity” replaced all other forms of the word–clear (to have clarity), clarify (to get clarity), clarification (to have gotten clarity), and so on?

  8. After what they did to Novak Djokovic I’m not sure if I ever want to go there anymore.

  9. There are enough snakes in DC and Hollyweird why would I fly halfway around the globe to spend time in a country full of snakes. Been there done that got the t-shirt.

  10. The one thing most travelers want is reasonable certainty as to how the trip will go and what rules will apply. It is going to take a long time before Australia can build up some trust with travelers again.

  11. Maybe if the Germans of the thirties had cared too much about their personal freedoms like Americans at least 60 million more people would be alive. But, no, the government knew all and the government knew right so it had to be followed, and art of this involved scapegoating a segment of the population. While you refer to one side as Covidiots, we refer to you as Branch Covidians, because the Cult of COVID is hopefully the worse we we see in our lifetimes. 900,000 dead is only if you believe the government. Time and again, we found that “victims” of COVID actually died from something else, such as old age, obesity, diabetes, etc. These people were going to die anyway but why let a crisis go to waste? There is a reason America is a free country, despite the wacko assertion our Democracy almost imploded. It is the same reason much of your currency has the Queen on it, whereas our money has engravings of “tyrants” like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

  12. @ Gary Leff

    Once again you exhibit your limited capacity to offer commentary on matters Australia:

    “Citizens couldn’t leave”

    Not true. There were many exemption categories.

    “Tens of thousands of Australians were stranded abroad, until they could schedule quarantine in state facilities.”

    Technically true, but also misleading. Over 600,000 residents returned during the first 18 months of the pandemic. For perspective, at any given time just (approx.) 1in 900 Australian residents had registered to return to the country.

    “The country started to see cases of Covid-19 they couldn’t stop with the Delta variant”

    Not exactly. Four of the six states almost entirely managed the Delta variant (QLD, NT, WA, SA, TAS). The two other states limited the spread of Delta through their respective control measures keeping mortality rates down to a fraction of those in other countries and buying time until high vaccination rates could be achieved.

    “the arrival of Omicron meant over 100,000 cases a day earlier this month”

    Not true. February data have been well below that figure. Also consider that the RAT data were added as a batch (in January) when self testing people were obliged to upload their personal test data, thus pumping up the maximum figures and game changing the dataset: some cases would be represented by multiple positive tests.

    “They’re heavily vaccinated, and ICU levels are similar to when the country faced 1/50 the number of cases just a few months ago.”

    The focus has moved onto booster shots. Note that most mortality through Omicron is in unboosted aged people. Aged care facilities are currently in melt down since many staff members are unable to work because of COVID and in some cases they are sending in the military to assist.

    “Now, with substantial background immunity in additional to vaccination”

    Many times more people have been vaccinated than have caught Omicron. The role and relevance of possible existing immunity (T cells) and antigenic immunity (people who have contracted Omicron) are unknown at this time.

    “There’s not yet clarity on whether arriving tourists would need to test in advance or travel, or on arrival as well, and whether there would be any quarantine rules.”

    Reference current requirements – before departure 3 day PCR or 24 hr RAT test – evidence of vaccination status and no quarantine required. Don’t expect to visit WA. Subject to change.

    “It appears unvaccinated travelers would likely be able to apply for exemption with proof they “cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.””

    Yes. But note definition of medical exemptions is very strict and would like apply in very few cases.

    “And vaccinated travelers aren’t riskier than those people already in the country”

    Well, that depends whether they are boosted or not. Expect definition of required vaccination status to change in time.

    “was a recent well-publicized case of rejecting entry to someone with
    a visa (with vaccination exception)”

    Untrue. Novax did not qualify for a medical exemption according to rules that applied at that time. There were no medical exemptions in play for inbound travellers. The confusion arose because Tennis Australia relaxed their entry rules for the Australian Open and gave Novax an exemption to play in their competition – they do not dictate border policy, the national government does, that was not an exemption to enter the country. As you well know a visa does not guarantee entry to a country. Novax had access to legal recourse (unlike those on visitor visas to the USA which force travellers to waiver their legal rights), including the full bench of the federal court – three judges unanimously upheld the Immigration Minister’s deportation order from a legal perspective. Remember he also provided false visa information (he did not declare his travel to Spain before arriving in MEL via DXB) and there was evidence that he was flouting COVID rules in both Serbia and Spain, including close contact with children when he was (supposedly) positive.

  13. @ TimK

    A civilised and sophisticated democracy is able to balance core principles with societal responsibility, such as health care. Which is why advanced democracies, like Australia, have universal health care to look after the sick without prejudice or favor arising from wealth and privilege and were able to handle the pandemic without its citizens lapsing into selfish self interest.

    A smart person balances their personal goals and interests with the needs of the community of which they are an associated part (something along the lines of “think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”) – they do not expect to have unfettered personal freedoms at the expense of somebody else’s life.

    Maybe, if more Americans hadn’t become so obsessively self entitled more than 900,000 of their compatriots would still be alive and life could get back to something more like pre-pandemic normal without so many missing loved ones.

    Miraculously, and counter to your presumptions, Australia hasn’t lost any of its democratic structure or process – government decisions were subject to the inbuilt checks and balances, open to legal challenge and the people have in the vast majority supported the policies, embraced vaccination, and are moving forwards with loved ones by their side.

    It is telling that in order to justify your position, you have to deny the mortality data, ignore the trajectories of 200 plus countries as they battled the pandemic, and refuse to accept the behaviours of your own former president and one major political party in undermining the very heart of your own democracy.

    Utter delusion.

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