International tourists and business travelers are arriving in Australia with few restrictions for the first time in nearly two years after the lifting of some of the toughest pandemic measures in any democracy.
Vaccinated travelers were greeted at Sydney Airport by jubilant well-wishers waving toy koalas and favorite Australian foods, including Tim Tam chocolate cookies and tubs of Vegemite spread.
Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan was on hand to greet the first arrivals on a Qantas flight from Los Angeles which landed at 6:20 a.m. local time.
The minister told ABC News in Australia: “I think there will be a very strong rebound in our tourism market. Our wonderful experiences have not disappeared.
Home Secretary Karen Andrews said the vaccination status of all travelers would be checked before arrival to avoid a repeat of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa debacle.
Mr Djokovic received a visa through an automated process before leaving Spain to compete at the Australian Open in January, but was deported after arriving in Melbourne as he was not vaccinated against Covid-19.
Tourism Australia chief executive Phillipa Harrison said she expected tourist numbers to take two years to rebound to pre-pandemic levels.
“It’s a really good start,” she told The Associated Press. “That’s what the industry asked of us, you know, just give us back our international guests and we’ll take it from there.”
On Monday, Qantas was bringing passengers from eight overseas destinations, including Vancouver, Singapore, London and Delhi.
The Sydney-based airline’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, said bookings had been strong since the federal government announced two weeks ago that the country was easing restrictions.
“It’s been a tough two years for everyone in the tourism industry, but today really is one of the big milestones on the road back to full recovery, so we’re very excited about today. today,” Mr. Joyce told Nine Network television.
The country’s Foreign Secretary, Marise Payne, wrote on Twitter: “Today (Australia) reopens to fully immunized tourists, business travelers and other visitors.
“This final step in our safe reopening will provide a much-needed boost to our tourism industry as we continue to secure our economic recovery.”
Today, 🇦🇺 reopens to fully vaccinated tourists, business travelers and other visitors. This final step in our safe reopening will provide a much-needed boost to our tourism industry as we continue to secure our economic recovery. pic.twitter.com/gk0Lf3AfRy
— Marise Payne (@MarisePayne) February 20, 2022
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 1.2 million people had visas to enter Australia with 56 international flights due to land within the first 24 hours of the border reopening.
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.
Travelers had to apply for an exemption from the travel ban, but tourism was not an accepted reason.
International students and skilled migrants were given priority when border restrictions were eased in November in response to an increase in vaccination rates among the Australian population. Tourists from New Zealand, Japan and South Korea were also allowed in early.
Australian states and territories also have their own Covid-19 rules, the strictest being enforced by the state of Western Australia which covers a third of the island continent.