News that tennis star Novak Djokovic was playing in the Australian Open may have caused some confusion about the country’s travel rules.
Since the start of December, eligible tourists are allowed back into Australia alongside Australian citizens and their immediate family members. The Serbian world number one certainly qualifies for a ‘skilled’ tourist visa, but he doesn’t meet the requirement to be fully vaccinated.
With COVID-19 cases spiking into the tens of thousands for the first time, the perceived special treatment has sparked anger among Australians. Prime Minister Scott Morrison says that if Djokovic’s evidence for being medically exempt from the jab is insufficient, he “could be on the next plane home.”
As more details on his visa mix-up emerge, that return looks set to happen as soon as Thursday. His lawyers will challenge that decision, Australian media report.
If you’re planning to catch a flight Down Under - and are concerned about what rising cases could mean for your trip - here’s what you need to know.
What are Australia’s travel restrictions?
From 15 December, fully-vaccinated visa holders - including international students, skilled workers and travellers on working holidays - have been allowed into Australia without first obtaining an ‘individual exemption’.
Travellers need to present proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. Crucially, they also need to be vaccinated - which is checked through the Australian Travel Declaration (ATD). Passengers must complete this 3 days before departure and upload a vaccination certificate as part of it.
Unvaccinated travellers generally need an exemption to enter Australia.
In terms of quarantine and other rules, this is determined on a state level. Those arriving into Melbourne - as Djokovic did on Wednesday - must take a PCR or antigen test within 24 hours of arriving and quarantine until they get the result, but are then free to go about their business.
Could rising cases in Australia usher in new travel rules?
After experiencing some of the world’s strictest lockdown measures to contain the virus, Australia is now seeing COVID-19 cases reach record levels, with 64,770 new infections as of Wednesday.
The Omicron variant is spreading fastest in Sydney, and has led to both PCR and antigen test shortages across the country.
There have been a number of changes to interstate travel in recent days too; domestic travellers to Victoria are no longer required to quarantine or have a permit to enter, New South Wales is operating a system based on ‘close’ or ‘casual’ contacts from places of high concern, while visitors from every other state are still barred from Perth in Western Australia.
A scheduled date for the return of international tourists to Australia has yet to be announced by Morrison.