Australia Plans Full Reopening on February 21

Double-vaccinated travelers from all countries will be eligible to enter without quarantining.

Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House at sunset. (Photo: Photoholgic/Unsplash)

Australia’s nearly two-year ban on almost all international visitors will soon be dropped, paving the way for a revival of the hard-hit tourism industry. At a press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that border restrictions on all fully vaccinated travelers and visa holders would be lifted from February 21: “The condition is you must be double vaccinated to come to Australia. That’s the rule. Everyone is expected to abide by it.”

It’s the latest and biggest step in a reopening process that began late last year, with quarantine-free access first granted to Australian citizens, permanent residents, and their families, before being expanded to international students and migrant workers. At the moment, only double-jabbed tourists from certain countries — including Japan, Singapore, and South Korea — are eligible to visit. Unvaccinated foreigners will have to apply for a travel exemption and go through hotel quarantine (under caps set out by individual state governments) if they are given permission to enter Australia.

Health officials are mulling over an update to the domestic definition of being fully vaccinated, which could mean only those who have received their booster shot will be afforded that status. But Morrison added that any changes will not impact international travelers, as two doses will continue to be the required standard for entry, except in the case of the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine. “We’ve been very careful looking at the impact, particularly when Omicron hit, and how that would flow through,” he said. “But the fact is here in Australia, the variant is here, and 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.”

The announcement was made hours after a meeting with national health experts, who determined that the worst of the current Omicron-driven wave had already passed. Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters that hospitalizations were down by 27 percent and ICU admissions had declined by 35 percent compared to the peak in mid-January.

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