“Welcome back to the world!”: Australia fully reopens borders after two years

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Monday fully reopened its international borders to vaccinated travelers against the coronavirus after nearly two years of pandemic-related lockdowns as tourists return and hundreds of people gather with family and friends.

More than 50 international flights will arrive in the country during the day, including 27 landing in Sydney, its largest city, as the tourism and hospitality sectors look to rebuild after being hit by COVID-19 restrictions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in the island state of Tasmania, which relies heavily on tourism.

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After being away from loved ones for several months, there were many emotional encounters, including for Cindy Moss who traveled from the US state of Kentucky to see her daughter.

“I haven’t seen her in a long time and it was great to be able to get here. So I’m so excited,” she said after hugging her daughter, her voice bursting with emotion.

Tourism is one of Australia’s largest industries, worth more than A$60 billion ($43 billion) and employing about 5% of the country’s workforce. But the sector was paralyzed after the country closed its borders in March 2020.

Having been a champion of the COVID suppression strategy, Australia has moved away from fortress-style controls and relentless lockdowns since late last year and has started to live with the virus after reaching higher vaccination levels. Skilled migrants, international students and backpackers have been allowed to travel to Australia since November in an intermittent reopening.

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“It’s a party here.”

Passengers bound for Sydney were greeted from the air with “Welcome Back World!” It was painted on a sign near the runways as people in kangaroo costumes greeted the passengers and a DJ played from a truck adorned with a “You were worth the wait” sign.

Tourism Minister Dan Teehan told ABC’s station from Sydney Airport he offers travelers gift boxes of Vegemite, a popular Australian food spread, and stuffed koala toys.

Tehan said he hoped for a “very strong” recovery in the tourism market with Qantas (QAN.AX) It is looking to fly more than 14,000 passengers to Australia this week. Virgin Australia said it was seeing positive trends in domestic bookings and continued to assess demand for international flights.

Meanwhile, all trains in Sydney were canceled on Monday after wage disputes between the union and the state government sparked the re-opening brilliance.

With borders fully reopened, the Omicron coronavirus outbreak in Australia appears to have passed its peak with hospital admissions steadily declining over the past three weeks. The bulk of Australia’s pandemic total of about 2.7 million confirmed cases has been detected since Omicron emerged in late November. The total number of deaths was 4,929.

Just over 17,000 new cases and 17 deaths were recorded by midday on Monday with the Northern Territory due to be reported later.

($1 = 1.3959 Australian dollars)

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Additional reporting by Ringo Jose, Byron Kay, James Redmayne, Cordelia Hsu; Editing by Grant McCall, Jerry Doyle and Christian Schmolinger

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Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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