The national security committee has made the decision to open Australia’s international borders on February 21, almost two years since border restriction rules were announced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, prime minister Scott Morrison told a press conference all remaining visa holders would be eligible to enter Australia by the end of the month, as part of a gradual reopening of borders from November 2021.
Visitors to Australia would need to have their double COVID vaccination to enter the country, the PM added, or be carrying an exemption and be subject to extra quarantine requirements.
“If you’re double vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back to Australia, and I know the tourism industry will be looking forward to that, and over the next two weeks they will have the opportunity both for visitors to be coming and for them to be gearing up to welcome international visitors back to Australia,” Morrison said.
“We just want to stress that you will need to provide proof of vaccination. Your visa is one thing, but your entry into Australia requires you also to be double vaccinated.”
The news follows an easing of recent pressures that the Omicron variant has had on Australian healthcare systems. The health department estimates there are 289, 342 active COVID cases circulating in Australia, and 274 patients of 3,916 hospitalised with the virus are being treated in ICU. A total of 123 people are being assisted with breathing ventilators and total deaths in Australia for people with COVID has reached 4,247.
Since 6 February, 93.7% of the Australian population over the age of 16 have received two vaccine shots.
This daily infographic provides the total number of vaccine doses administered in Australia 🇦🇺 as of 6 February 2022 📅
— Australian Government Department of Health (@healthgovau) February 7, 2022
Home affairs minister Karen Andrews said tourists, business travellers and other visa holders to Australia who were previously prevented from entering the country would finally be welcomed in.
“These changes that we are announcing today make sure that we are protecting the health of Australians, but at the same time working towards our economic recovery,” Andrews said.
State and territory government rules also remained in place, she noted, meaning travel into WA would be restricted for now. WA introduced new test and isolation COVID protocols to manage community spread, effective from Tuesday, as the state recognised it was starting to experience a ‘high caseload environment’.
WA premier Mark McGowan said the state was about to embark on its most challenging phase of the pandemic yet, telling Western Australians that the virus would ‘cause problems’ and disrupt the local way of life.
“It’s so important we continue to drive up third dose vaccinations, to help prevent the loss of life and try to minimise the disruption Omicron will cause in our community and economy,” the premier said.
“Unfortunately, these new protocols are not a sign of the pandemic ending — they signify the real impact of Omicron beginning in Western Australia.”
Andrews said nearly 300,000 people had entered Australia since last November and that the 21 February reopening date would give business owners in the tourism industry time to prepare to serve more customers.
“We all understand that tourism in Australia has been dealt with a tremendous blow through COVID – our visitor numbers have clearly been down,” Andrews said.
“We are absolutely looking forward to the 21st of February, where we can welcome back to Australia all of the fully vaccinated visa holders,” she said.