Fully vaccinated international tourists will be allowed to visit Australia from Feb. 21, following a near two-year lockout since the beginning of the pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement after a national security committee meeting of his Cabinet on Feb. 7.
Since late 2021, entry in the country has been largely restricted to citizens, permanent residents, families, and then later to international students, backpackers, and migrant workers.
Going forward it will be opened to all remaining visa holders and is expected to be a boon for the struggling international tourism sector.
“I know the tourism industry will be looking forward to that, and over the next two weeks they’ll get the opportunity both for visitors to be coming and for them to be gearing up to welcome international visitors back to Australia,” Prime Minister Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
“The condition is you must be double vaccinated to come to Australia. That’s the rule. Everyone is expected to abide by it,” he added, in a veiled reference to the events involving tennis star Novak Djokovic in the lead-up to the Australian Open.
The prime minister also said there were no plans to change the definition of “fully vaccinated” to include boosters—international borders are managed by the federal government.
“For those who are coming in who are double vaccinated, they don’t present any greater risk than those who are already here in Australia,” he said.
“It’s a sensible, and I think very important move, for us as best as we possibly can to this year drive Australia back to a position of as much normality as we can achieve.”
Unvaccinated travellers will still need to apply for an exemption to come to Australia and must undergo hotel quarantine if they are granted permission to enter the country.
State-based caps on quarantine will continue, with each state and territory government to determine the number of visitors they will allow in.
The Australian Labor Party’s (ALP) Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally said the federal opposition looked forward to the border “safely opening again.”
“Any effort to provide families and businesses more certainty is welcome after two years of border chaos and Mr. Morrison outsourcing border decisions to the states,” she wrote on Twitter.
“With international travel currently only operating at 15 percent of pre-COVID levels, we need to also think about the staff who work in the industry,” she added. “Are our airports, the Australian Border Force and airlines ready to scale-up in this time in a safe way? Can all the staff be trained in time?”
The announcement comes just as cruise giant, Carnival Cruises, withdrew its last vessel from Australian waters on the weekend to be redeployed in Florida, United States.
“Due to the overwhelming success of the resumption of cruising in the United States and the continued uncertainty in Australia with operations still on pause, Carnival Spirit will be deployed to Jacksonville, Florida to commence cruising from March 7, 2022,” the company said in a statement.
“Carnival Cruise Line looks forward to resuming guest operations in Australia when government officials can provide clarity.”