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.