Emotional reunions as Australia's border reopens

November 01, 2021
A woman is embraced by. a loved-one after arriving on a flight from Los Angeles at Sydney Airport as Australia open its borders for the first time in 19 months in Sydney, Monday.
A woman is embraced by. a loved-one after arriving on a flight from Los Angeles at Sydney Airport as Australia open its borders for the first time in 19 months in Sydney, Monday.

SYDNEY — Australia's border has reopened for the first time in 20 months, sparking emotional reunions to Sydney Airport.

Sydney’s international airport came alive with tears, embraces and laughter on Monday as Australia’s border opened for the first time in 20 months, with some arriving travelers tearing away mandatory masks to see faces of loved ones they’ve been separated from for so long.

Australia was one of the first countries to shut its borders to international travel in March 2020. Shortly after the start of the pandemic, the government said only citizens and permanent residents would be allowed to enter, and they would have to undergo two weeks of hotel quarantine. A quota system also severely limited the number of people who could arrive each day.

But as Australia's vaccination rollout accelerated in September and October, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said citizens and permanent residents who had received both their shots would be allowed to travel internationally and return home from Monday -- with arrival quotas also lifted.
So far, only the highly-vaccinated states of New South Wales and Victoria -- home to Australia's largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne -- have relaxed restrictions on international arrivals. States such as Queensland and Western Australia have threatened to keep their borders closed until vaccine rates are even higher.

Only Australians are allowed into the country for now but some rules for foreigners will be relaxed soon, the government said.

"Before the end of the year, we anticipate welcoming fully vaccinated skilled workers and international students," Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said in a statement last week.

“Just being able to come home without having to go to quarantine is huge,” Carly Boyd, a passenger who had traveled from New York, told reporters at Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport, where Peter Allen’s unofficial national anthem “I Still Call Australia Home” was playing.

Sydney was the first Australian airport to announce it would reopen Monday because New South Wales was the first state where 80% of the population aged 16 and older have been fully vaccinated. Melbourne and the national capital Canberra also opened on Monday after Victoria state and the Australian Capital Territory achieved the vaccination benchmark.

Sydney had 16 scheduled inbound international flights on Monday and 14 outbound. Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, had five scheduled in and five out. Canberra had none.

Before the pandemic, Sydney was Australia’s busiest international airport but until Monday had been almost deserted.

Thailand, too, was reopening its border Monday. Fully vaccinated tourists arriving by air from 46 countries and territories no longer have to quarantine and can move freely. And local restrictions such as a curfew in some areas were being lifted.

The new freedoms mean that outbound fully vaccinated Australian permanent residents and citizens can leave the country for any reason without asking the government for an exemption from a travel ban that has trapped most at home since March 25, 2020.

Incoming vaccinated Australians are able to come home without quarantining in a hotel for two weeks. The cap on hotel quarantine numbers had been a major obstacle for thousands of Australians stranded overseas. That cap now only applies to unvaccinated travelers.

An Australian who lives in San Francisco, who identified himself only as Jeremy, said he had been trying to fly back to Sydney with his wife and baby daughter since July. They had been prevented at short notice four times from flying, twice because flights were delayed and twice because quarantine caps had been reduced in response to the COVID-19 delta variant taking hold in Sydney in June.

“At every moment until we were sitting on the plane, it just felt like something was going to go wrong and I’m so glad that it all worked out and that we’re here,” Jeremy told Australian Broadcasting Corp. at Sydney’s airport.

Some of Australia’s 1.6 million temporary residents feel left out of Australia’s reopening plan and unsure of their travel status. — Agencies

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