Australia to reopen borders in November after 18-month Covid closure

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the country will be 'ready for take-off' soon

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Australia will begin to reopen its borders in November, 18 months after citizens were banned from travelling overseas without permission.

The country's prime minister, Scott Morrison, on Friday said vaccinated Australians would be able to return home and travel overseas "within weeks" as 80 per cent vaccination targets are met.

An estimated 30,000 expatriate Australians have been separated from their families since borders closed on March 20 last year and many more waited months to gain entry under strict border restrictions.

Foreign residents were also trapped in Australia, knowing they were unlikely to regain entry if they left the country. More than 100,000 requests to enter or leave the country were denied in the first five months of 2021 alone, according to Department of Home Affairs data.

"The time has come to give Australians their life back. We're getting ready for that, and Australia will be ready for take-off, very soon," Mr Morrison said.

He also announced that vaccinated residents would be able to home quarantine for seven days on their return, avoiding the current mandatory and costly 14-day hotel quarantine.

The exact timing of the border reopenings will depend on when Australian states reach their 80 per cent vaccination targets and, crucially, on local political approval.

The most populous state, New South Wales, currently has 64 per cent of those aged over 16 fully vaccinated and has indicated it will hit 70 per cent and 80 per cent targets this month.

But most Australian states – most notably West Australia and Queensland – still have no widespread community transmission while pursuing a strategy of "Covid-zero" and are closed to other parts of the country.

Friday's announcements could mean that within a month it will be easier for those in Sydney or Melbourne to travel to London or New York than to go to Perth or Brisbane.

Australian national airline Qantas welcomed the decision, announcing it would restart flights to London and Los Angeles on November 14.

"We welcome the federal government's decision and the work by the New South Wales government to facilitate the home quarantine approach that makes this feasible," Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said. "We look forward to other states and territories getting on board."

Expatriates and foreign residents gave the news a cautious welcome on social media forums. But experts say many Australians will be cautious about booking travel for fear of snap lockdowns or other disruptions.

Australia has been a fortress nation with the drawbridge pulled up to the rest of the world
Tim Soutphommasane, academic

And the effects of this extraordinary period in the country's history could be felt for years to come.

"Australia has been a fortress nation with the drawbridge pulled up to the rest of the world," Tim Soutphommasane, an academic and former Australian race discrimination commissioner, told AFP.

"What we're seeing now with this announcement of borders being reopened is akin to Australia re-entering the world, and it's long overdue," he said.

A Lowy Institute poll in May showed that a plurality of Australians backed the tough border measures, with 41 per cent of those in support.

Only 18 per cent said fellow citizens should be free to leave.

Australia has registered 107,128 cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, and 1,309 deaths. On Thursday the country recorded its highest number of new cases per day, with 2,400.

A Delta variant-fuelled outbreak that has locked down the major cities, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, for weeks has divided state and territory leaders.

Updated: October 01, 2021, 1:34 PM