Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, has announced the end of the 18-month travel ban.
For many Australians living abroad, this will be the first time since the beginning of the pandemic they will be able to return home.
The end to international border closures will see some states change to a seven-day quarantine system for international travellers.
The plan is for the quarantine system to be brought in for states where more than 80 per cent of the population have received a double dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Which will be the first Australian states to lift the ban?
The first state expected to lift the ban is New South Wales, with Victoria following after.
“If you’re fully vaccinated with a vaccine our authorities deem to be effective and safe, you’ll be able to quarantine at home. We’re going through the pilot as we speak. But the hotel quarantine system for returning Australians is past its use by date. If you’re fully vaccinated, you should be able to quarantine at home,’’ New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
The change in international travel policy has come earlier than expected. Most thought the ban would not be lifted before the summer of 2022.
It’s been brought forward due to the speed New South Wales and Victoria have reached an 80 per cent rate for double doses of vaccines.
“We never anticipated the speed with which that would occur and the demand that was there,’’ noted Berejiklian.
But while some states open up to international travel, others may keep their borders firmly shut.
States such as Western Australia and Queensland look like they are standing firm on their closed borders, meaning travellers will have to face a 14-day hotel quarantine that costs nearly €2,000.
Australians abroad react to the news
“With my job, even though I'm working remotely, I'm not allowed to do it from abroad, and also not allowed to take more than two weeks off sequentially - so even if I could have afforded the return trip, I wouldn't have been able to with hotel quarantine and my work,” says Campbell, from Melbourne and currently living in London.
“I haven't been back for over two years now and I've missed the death of my last grandmother, and the birth of my first nephew. Missed friends getting married, having kids, buying houses.”
“All the big life events that help you maintain friendships across borders. Video calls lose their shine after two years and My connections with my family and friends in Australia have slowly been degrading. I'm hopeful I'll be able to go back over Christmas, but without any certainty from the government, it might still be unachievable,” he explains.
“Being unable to travel back to Australia has been one of the most stressful experiences of the last two years. I've been horrified by the lack of care towards Australians who live overseas, especially in the height of the pandemic last year,” Kate, from Victoria living in London says.
Kate lost a member of her family during the pandemic and was unable to attend the funeral.
“Watching my family hugging on the funeral live stream without being there with them was the hardest part. I used to comfort myself knowing I was only 24 hours away from my family, but with the closed borders getting home in an emergency was pretty much impossible.”
Reacting to the news, Russell from Adelaide living in London, hopes to return to his family soon. “With my parents getting older and a sister in law with leukaemia, it’s important for me to know that I can get home at the drop of a hat if needed. Always hoping for the best but prepared for the worst.”
Coming out of lockdown
Australia has had some of the strictest and longest-lasting lockdown measures.
New South Wales, Victoria and Australian Capital Territory have only just begun to ease strict lockdown restrictions after several weeks spent trying to curb a third wave of COVID-19 infections.
Prime Minister Morrison defended the need for the strict lockdowns.
“I’ll tell you what shutting those borders did, it saved over 30,000 lives in Australia. We also took action to save livelihoods. And our economy has come back strongly, even with the restrictions we have in place now.”