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After Two Years Of Closed Borders, Australia Welcomes The World Back

By Dave Simpson

Australia has said that it will reopen its borders to vaccinated travellers this month, ending two years of misery for the tourism sector, reviving migration and injecting billions of dollars into the world No. 13 economy.

Time Called

The move effectively calls time on the last main component of Australia's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which it has attributed to relatively low death and infection rates. The other core strategy, stop-start lockdowns, was shelved for good in December.

Steps

The country had taken steps in recent months to relax border controls, like allowing in skilled migrants and quarantine-free travel arrangements - "travel bubbles" - with select countries like New Zealand.

Reopening Date

But the reopening, which takes effect on 21 February, represents the first time since March of 2020 that people can travel to Australia from anywhere in the world as long as they are vaccinated.

Prime Minister Statement

"If you're double-vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back to Australia," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a media briefing in Canberra.

Tourism Industry Welcomes Decision

The tourism industry, which has relied on the domestic market that has itself been heavily impacted by movement restrictions, welcomed the decision which comes three months before Morrison is due to face an election.

Australian Tourism Export Council Managing Director Statements

"Over the two years since the borders have been closed the industry has been on its knees," Australian Tourism Export Council managing director Peter Shelley said by phone.

"Now we can turn our collective efforts towards rebuilding an industry that is in disrepair," he added.

Tourism And Transport Forum CEO Statements

Tourism and Transport Forum CEO Margy Osmond said that the industry is "thrilled" by the reopening, but will need coordination to ensure Australia was competitive as a destination.

"It's not as simple as just turning on the tap and we see numbers of international tourists back where they were pre-COVID," she told reporters.

Losses And Spending

International and domestic tourism losses since the start of the pandemic totalled A$101.7 billion ($72 billion), according to government body Tourism Research Australia. International travel spending in Australia plunged from A$44.6 billion in the 2018-19 financial year to A$1.3 billion in 2020-21, TRA said.

Qantas And Flight Centre Travel Group

Shares of tourism-related stocks soared as investors cheered the prospect of a return to profit growth. Shares of the country's main airline Qantas Airways Ltd jumped 5% while shares of travel agent Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd surged 8%.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement that the company is looking at flight schedules to determine ways to restart flights from more international locations soon.

Omicron Impact

As elsewhere in the world, Australian COVID-19 cases have soared in recent weeks due to the Omicron variant which medical experts say may be more transmissable but less virulent than previous strains.

But with more than nine in 10 Australians aged over 16 fully vaccinated, new cases and hospitalisations appear to have slowed, the authorities say.

Lowest Infections For 2022

The country reported just over 23,000 new infections on Monday February 7, its lowest for 2022 and far from a peak of 150,000 around a month ago.

Defence Force Personnel

Morrison meanwhile said that the government will send up to 1,700 Australian Defence Force personnel to fill staffing shortages in the aged care sector, following complaints of understaffing and fatigue due to increased pressures brought by the pandemic.

Cases And Deaths

Approximately 2.4 million cases have been recorded in Australia since the first Omicron case was detected in Australia in November. Until then, Australia had counted only approximately 200,000 cases. Total deaths stand at 4,248 since the pandemic began.

News by Reuters, edited by Hospitality Ireland. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.

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