Visitors to Sydney’s international airport on Monday were greeted by lifeguards, rowing queens and a DJ blasting local hits, as Australia reopened its borders to visitors. international after nearly two years of being closed to the rest of the world to try to contain the coronavirus.
The country closed international borders in March 2020 as part of its response to the pandemic, which has stranded citizens abroad and separated loved ones. Although the government gradually eased harsh restrictions late last year – first easing isolation requirements for citizens, then allowing international students and some visa holders to return to the country. back – tourists are still banned and some residents continue to be cut off from friends and family.
More than 50 international flights were scheduled to land in Australia on Monday from countries including the US, UK, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. In Sydney, the first visitors arrived from Los Angeles just after 6 a.m., given a teddy bear stuffed toy and a jar of Vegemite, a classic spice, upon landing.
“This is a party at Sydney airport; People are celebrating,” Dan Tehan, Tourism Minister, said at a press conference at the airport on Monday morning. “It’s been incredible to see how people are reunited – hugs, tears.”
Australia’s reopening comes as other countries in Asia also ease restrictions even as the wave of Omicron continues to spread in the region. Last week, Japan announced that it would relax border restrictions to allow more international students and visa holders to enter the country starting in March. And South Korea, which recently reported more than 100,000 new cases a day, has begun asking people who test positive for coronavirus to take care of themselves at home, so the country can redirect resources to the most vulnerable.
Potential visitors and tour operators are both cautiously optimistic about the reopening of “Fortress Australia”, but many wonder if the isolated nation’s Covid restrictions – for example such as vaccine and testing requirements, as well as mask regulations – have made the return to international travel more of a trickle than a jet of water.
Travelers must present proof of vaccination to enter Australia without being quarantined in a hotel and they must provide a negative coronavirus test done within 24 hours of departure. Unvaccinated travelers must be cleared by the country’s authorities in order to be allowed to enter the country and are subject to quarantine upon arrival.
Mr Tehan dismissed concerns that Australia’s reputation for adhering to strict safety measures during the pandemic – contrasted with its inviting, easygoing nature described by the country’s tourist board – can also keep tourists away. “People see Australia as they always see Australia,” he said, “warm, welcoming, with the best, the best and the best places you can go anywhere in the world. “.
It is not clear how long it will take to recover the tourism industry. The question remains whether visitors from China, Australia’s largest tourism market, will return. And the US and New Zealand have advised against travel to Australia because of its Omicron outbreak. In January, Australia recorded its highest average number of cases ever, while February was the month with the highest average number of deaths.
Margy Osmond, executive director of the Tourism and Transport industry group Forum Australia, said that travel operators are starting to see an increase in “bookings in the second half of the year”.
But Monday’s flights are the first steps on the road back. Obviously, she said, “it’s going to take a bit of time to get the numbers right before the pandemic, but this is the start. This is the start. ”
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