Australia will allow its citizens to travel abroad for the first time in more than 18-months when it reopens its international borders next month after a surprise announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The decision will finally allow thousands of Australians to go on a foreign holiday and to reunite with families and friends.
Qantas immediately responded to the news by announcing plans to bring forward the restart of flights between Sydney and London and Los Angeles by a month. The airline will operate three weekly flights between Sydney and London and Sydney and Los Angeles starting November 14.
The airline had been hoping to restart international flights from December 14 and will be looking to use Darwin in the Northern Territory as a transit stop. Qantas said it would abandon Perth as its traditional stopover point for flights to London because Western Australia is unwilling to join Australia’s national reopening plan.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce confirmed that the airline would only allow fully vaccinated passengers onboard its international flights, although the federal government will allow unvaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents to come to the country.
Qantas is believed to be the first airline in the world to issue a vaccine mandate for passengers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison didn’t specify what day in November the borders will be swung open but Qantas is working on the assumption that it will be mid-month. The airline is ready to bring forward the restart of flights even faster if allowed.
“With first dose vaccination rates at over 78 per cent and double dose rates nationwide at 55 per cent and on track to reach 70 per cent in some jurisdictions over the next week, our government has been finalising plans so Australian families can be reunited, Australian workers can travel in and out of our country, and we can work towards welcoming tourists back to our shores,” Morrison said on Friday.
What vaccines will the Australian government accept?
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has created a list of ‘recognised vaccines’ which include the four vaccines currently approved for use in Australia. These are Pfizer (Comirnaty), AstraZeneca (Vaxzevria), Moderna (Spikevax) and COVID-19 Vaccine Janssen.
In addition, the TGA has completed an assessment of other vaccines and will recognise the Coronavac (Sinovac) and Covishield (AstraZeneca/Serum Institute of India) vaccines.
What happens if I’ve received a vaccine not on the approved list?
The TGA will be reviewing other vaccines in the coming weeks but for now, anyone who has been vaccinated with a non ‘recognised vaccine’ will have to follow the rules for unvaccinated passengers.
What are the rules for unvaccinated passengers?
Unvaccinated passengers will have to undertake a 14-day stay in managed hotel quarantine in the same way that nearly all other travellers who have come to Australia in the last 18-months have had to. The federal government did not say whether it would increase the caps for managed quarantine from November.
What about people who can’t get vaccinated?
Children under the age of 12, as well as those with medical conditions that prevent them from getting the shot will be considered to be fully vaccinated.
What else do I need?
You’ll need a recognised form of proof of full vaccination plus a negative PCR test within 72-hours of travel. The Morrison government said it was looking to replace the PCR test with a cheaper rapid antigen test subject to further medical advice.
How will Australians prove they are vaccinated?
In the next few weeks, Australia will roll out an internationally recognised proof of vaccination which will include a QR code and will comply with International Civil Aviation Organisation standards.
And when will Australia open to tourists?
For now, the easing of border restrictions is limited to Australian citizens and permanent residents, along with their families. Morrison said the federal government was still working on a plan to welcome back international tourists but did not provide a timeframe for how long this might take.
“Many countries around the world have now safely reopened to international travel and it will shortly be time for Australia to take the next step. To enable fully vaccinated Australians to travel, our government is finalising new arrangements,” he continued.
Initially, only Australian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to enter Australia. Fully vaccinated passengers will only be required to undertake a seven day home quarantine following successful trials in New South Wales and South Australia.
New South Wales and Victoria are likely to accept the federal government’s proposals first.
The premiers of Queensland and Western Australia have, however, demanded that vaccination rates hit at least 90 per cent before borders are reopened. Other states are also likely to remain closed for the first few months at least.
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk lashed out at a reporter last week who asked her if Queensland might reopen in line with the federal plan.
“Where are you going to go? Palaszczuk snapped at the reporter when he asked whether she would support allowing Australians more freedom once 80 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Qantas announced last week that it would delay the restart of interstate travel to Queensland and Western Australia because of the continued domestic closures.
“The early reopening of Australia’s international borders will mean so much to so many people and it’s made possible by the amazing ramp-up of the vaccine rollout,” commented Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.
“We know Australians can’t wait to travel overseas and be reunited with their loved ones, and literally thousands are waiting to come back home, so this faster restart is fantastic news. It also means we can get more of our people back to work, sooner.”
The exact date for the reopening of Australia’s international borders will be announced in the next few weeks after the plans have been signed off Minister for Health Greg Hunt.
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