Australia welcomes back international tourists after nearly two years

International tourists and business travellers are arriving in Australia with few restrictions for the first time in almost two years after some of the strictest pandemic measures of any democracy were lifted.

Vaccinated travellers were greeted at Sydney’s airport by jubilant well-wishers waving toy koalas and favourite Australian foods including Tim Tam chocolate biscuits and jars of Vegemite spread.

Qantas on Monday was bringing in 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 relaxing restrictions.

“It has been tough two years for everybody in the tourism industry, but today is really one of the big steps on the way back to a full recovery so we are very excited about today,” Mr Joyce told Nine Network television.

The country’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, wrote on Twitter: “Today, (Australia) reopens to fully vaccinated tourists, business travellers, & other visitors.

“This final stage of our safe reopening will provide a much needed boost to our tourism industry, while we continue to secure our economic recovery.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 1.2 million people had visas to enter Australia with 56 international flights due to touch down in 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.

Travellers had to apply for an exemption from the travel ban, but tourism was not an accepted reason.

International students and skilled migrants were prioritised when the border restrictions were relaxed in November in response to an increasing vaccination rate 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, with the strictest enforced by Western Australia state which covers a third of the island continent.


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