Sydney to allow quarantine-free international travel for Australians from next month
People gather for picnics beside the Harbour Bridge in the suburb of Kirribilli on September 19, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. Covid-19 restrictions have eased for people in NSW who are fully vaccinated.
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Fully vaccinated Australians arriving in Sydney from overseas will no longer have to quarantine starting Nov. 1.
At a briefing, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet implied that quarantine-free travel was also available for all vaccinated international travelers when he said, “We are opening Sydney and New South Wales to the world.”
But he was overruled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who later said the easing of entry restrictions at the border is meant only for Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families.
People who fall under those categories would be allowed to leave and return to Sydney without needing to quarantine.
“This is about Australian residents and citizens first,” Morrison said at a briefing, following Perrottet’s announcement.
“Commonwealth Government has made no decisions to allow other visa holders … to come into Australia under these arrangements. They are decisions for the Commonwealth Government, as the premier and I know,” he said.
The prime minister did not give any indication Friday as to when the border restrictions would be eased for other travelers, but said it would be done in a staged and careful way.
Australia shut its international borders in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, it allowed only citizens and permanent residents to enter, but they must go through two weeks of quarantine.
Still, with fewer flights available and weekly limits placed on how many international passengers are permitted to arrive at the major cities, thousands of Australians have been left stranded overseas.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives on February 18, 2021 in Canberra, Australia.
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Australia’s other major state, Victoria, has a similar reopening roadmap, which will see certain restrictions lifted when the vaccination rate hits a certain milestone. The state’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton reportedly told local media this week that Melbourne could exit lockdown earlier than planned.
The rest of Australia still has some way to go before hitting the 80% vaccination threshold. Information collated by online publication Our World In Data showed around 53% of all eligible people in Australia have been fully vaccinated.
Perrottet also announced a number of local restrictions that would be eased for vaccinated individuals as the state is expected to achieve its target of fully inoculating 80% of its population by this weekend.
Starting Monday, face masks would no longer be required in office buildings. Households would be able to receive up to 20 visitors at any one time, and outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people would be allowed.
Restrictions would remain in place for people who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated yet.
Travel between the Greater Sydney area and regional New South Wales will resume starting in November — that is when the state government expects the regional areas to hit the 80% vaccination target, Perrottet said.
A red ensign flies atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge to commemorate Merchant Navy Day on September 03, 2021 in Sydney, Australia.
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“We’ve only been able to do this because of a significant effort that people right across New South Wales have made in getting us to this point,” he added.
Australia has handled the coronavirus pandemic relatively better than most due to strict social distancing rules, border restrictions, contact tracing and lockdowns. The country experienced a spike in Covid cases this year due to the delta variant, which forced several major cities into lockdowns.
In July, the Australian government introduced a transition plan that said it wants to fully vaccinate between 70% and 80% of the population before easing international border restrictions.
Australia’s flag carrier Qantas said it will restart international flights from Nov. 1, two weeks ahead of schedule following Friday’s announcements. Qantas said it would operate multiple return flights a week to Sydney from London and Los Angeles.