CANBERRA, Australia — Australia will open its borders to all vaccinated tourists and business travelers from February 21 in a further relaxation of pandemic restrictions announced Monday.
Australia imposed some of the world’s toughest travel restrictions on its citizens and permanent residents in March 2020 to prevent them from bringing COVID-19 home.
When the border restrictions were relaxed in November in response to an increasing vaccination rate among the Australian population, international students and skilled migrants were prioritized over tourists in being welcomed back to Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his senior ministers agreed on Monday that the border would reopen to all vaccinated visas holders from Feb. 21.
Morrison said visitors must have proof of vaccination. He referred to Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic being deported by the Australian government last month because he was not vaccinated against coronavirus.
“Events earlier in the year should have sent a very clear message, I think, to everyone around the world that that is the requirement to enter into Australia,” Morrison said.
The Djokovic case demonstrated that visitors gaining visas through an automated process before setting off for Australia does not guarantee that they will meet entry requirements on arrival.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said visitors who could provide proof of a medical reason why they could not be vaccinated could apply for a travel exemption.
Visitors to Australia could also have to contend with various states’ COVID-19 rules if they move around the country.
The strictest state border rules are enforced by Western Australia which covers a third of the island continent.
The state allows only 265 international arrivals a week and requires a 14-day quarantine period.
Australia delayed its staged border reopening after two Australians who returned from southern Africa on Nov. 27 became the first to test positive for the omicron variant.
The arrivals of students and skilled workers were postponed by two weeks until Dec. 15.
Tourist operators have been lobbying the government to bring tourists back sooner. The southern hemisphere summer is in its final month.
The Australian Tourism Export Council, the peak industry body representing the nation’s tourism export sector, said tourism operations were looking forward to rebuilding their markets.
“Australian tourism businesses will rejoice in the news that our borders will reopen to all international travelers,” the council’s managing director Peter Shelley said.
“It’s been a long, hard and desperate road for every tourism business across the country and we have lost many along the way, but this news will give those who have survived a clear target to work towards and a start point for the rebuilding of the industry,” Shelley added.