Australia has reopened its international border for the first time in nearly two years, bringing joyful family reunions and a boost to tourism.
The country imposed some of the world’s strictest travel bans after shutting itself off in March 2020 due to Covid.
Australians and some others were allowed to return from late last year, but most foreigners have had to wait.
There were tearful reunions at Sydney Airport on Monday as hundreds of people began arriving on flights.
One young girl, Charlotte, shared an emotional hug with her grandfather. She told the local Nine Network: “I’ve missed him so much and I’ve looked forward to this trip for so long.”
Double-jabbed visitors do not need to quarantine, but unvaccinated travellers must do so in a hotel for up to 14 days at their own expense.
More than 50 international flights were due to land on Monday. Travellers can enter all states except Western Australia, which remains closed until 3 March and will require three jabs.
“What wonderful, wonderful news for our tourism industry and the 660,000 people employed in it,” said Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan.
Australia had about 9.5 million overseas visitors in 2019. Mr Tehan said he hoped for a strong rebound in the tourism sector, which has been hit by domestic travel bans too.
The country’s strict measures drew criticism for separating families and stifling businesses, but they were also credited with preventing many deaths before vaccines were available. Australia has had about 4,900 Covid deaths.
Morale boost for tourism operators
Phil Mercer, BBC News in Sydney
Like the sunrise, Dawn the koala is a sign of brighter times ahead for Australia’s beleaguered tourism industry.
She is one of the star attractions at the Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney. International tourists were its lifeblood accounting for two-thirds of its revenue before Australia’s borders were slammed shut.
Domestic visitors have helped to keep the park afloat, but the reopening of Australia’s borders is a big moment.
“The fact that we can really start welcoming people back is going to do a lot for our morale,” said the park’s managing director, Chad Staples.
But while there is optimism about the future, in the tourist town of Leura in the World Heritage-Blue Mountains there’s also a wariness about expecting too much, too soon.
“It is not going to be a magic recovery,” said Careem Angel, from Josophan’s Fine Chocolates.
Rebuilding Australia’s multi-billion-dollar travel industry will take time.