SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — Australia said on Monday that it will reopen its borders to vaccinated visitors this month, putting an end to two years of agony for the tourism industry, restarting migration, and pumping billions of dollars into one of the world’s largest economies.
The decision essentially ends Australia’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic, which it claims has helped keep mortality and infection rates relatively low. The second key approach, stop-start lockdowns, was permanently abandoned in December.
Through recent months, the nation has made moves to reduce border controls, such as allowing skilled migrants in and establishing quarantine-free travel agreements — “travel bubbles” — with select countries such as New Zealand.
However, the reopening, which takes effect on February 21, marks the first time since March 2020 that anyone from anywhere in the globe can come to Australia as long as they are vaccinated.
“If you’re double-vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back to Australia,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a press conference in Canberra.
The tourist industry, which has relied on the domestic market, which has been severely hurt by mobility restrictions, applauded the decision, which comes three months before Morrison is set to face an election.
“The industry has been on its knees for the past two years since the borders were closed,” said Peter Shelley, managing director of the Australian Tourism Export Council, over the phone.
“Now we can focus our collective efforts on repairing a deteriorating industry,” he continued.
Margy Osmond, CEO of the Tourism and Transport Forum, said the sector was “ecstatic” about the reopening, but that collaboration was needed to keep Australia competitive.
“It’s not as simple as turning on the tap,” she told reporters, “and we see numbers of international tourists back where they were pre-Covid.”
According to Tourist Research Australia, international and domestic tourism losses have exceeded A$101.7 billion ($72 billion) since the outbreak began. According to TRA, Australia’s international travel spending fell from A$44.6 billion in the 2018-19 financial year to A$1.3 billion in 2020-21.
Investors hailed the idea of a return to profit growth, sending tourism-related companies soaring. The country’s major airline, Qantas Airways, had its stock rise 5%, while travel agency Flight Centre Travel Group saw its stock rise 8%.
In a statement, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the firm was reviewing flight schedules to see whether it might restore flights from other overseas destinations shortly.
The omicron strain of the coronavirus, which medical experts suggest may be more transmissible but less severe than earlier variants, has caused an increase in Covid cases in Australia in recent weeks, as it has elsewhere in the world.
New cases and hospitalizations appear to have halted as more than nine out of ten Australians over the age of 16 have been completely vaccinated, according to officials.
On Monday, the country recorded just over 23,000 new infections, the lowest number since 2022 and much below the peak of 150,000 a month ago.
Since the first omicron case was discovered in November, almost 2.4 million cases have been reported in Australia. Only about 200,000 instances had been reported in Australia up to that point. Since the epidemic began, 4,248 people have died.