The Australian border is set to fully reopen on February 21, 2022, in what will likely come as a welcome relief to small businesses in the tourism industry.
Speaking at a press conference today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the borders will reopen to “all remaining visa holders” in two weeks’ time.
Tourists must be fully vaccinated, which for this purpose is defined as having had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The condition is you must be double vaccinated to come to Australia. That’s the rule. Everyone is expected to abide by it,” the Prime Minister said, in a not-so-subtle nod to the Novak Djokovic saga.
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“If you’re double-vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back.
“I know the tourism industry will be looking forward to that.”
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews clarified that any unvaccinated travellers will have to apply for an exemption and prove that there is a medical reason why they cannot get vaccinated. They will also be subject to hotel quarantine requirements.
Caps and quarantines?
It will be up to individual states to make the call as to whether there will be a cap on arrivals, and on any quarantine arrangements required.
“The state-based cap arrangements on arrivals and the state-based quarantine arrangements will continue … and it will be up to state governments to alter those, as they see fit, which has always been the case,” Morrison said.
These decisions will likely be made based on states’ capacities at any given time, he added.
“Western Australia is very different to New South Wales. And as a result the arrangements are different between those two parts of the country.”
Relief for tourism businesses?
The announcement follows the reopening of the border to temporary visa holders and international students in November last year. Those programs have since “proceeded very successfully”, Morrison said.
Andrews added that since the relaxation of border rules, some 300,000 eligible visa holders have entered the country.
The latest announcement could, however, also promise some welcome relief to small businesses in the beleaguered travel and tourism sector in Australia.
In a statement, Andrew McKellar, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said it “sets our tourism industry on the path to recovery”.
“This decision will allow our flailing tourism sector to recover, saving businesses and saving livelihoods,” he added.
Last month, business owners and staff staged a ‘day of action’ across the country, demonstrating outside of local and federal government offices to demand more support.
Belle Goldie, owner of Sydney travel agency itravel and one of the main organisers of the movement, said that without international tourism, and with the threat of Omicron lingering, businesses were struggling.
Yet tourism has been “the forgotten industry” she said, with no additional government support despite continuing challenges.
She estimated that businesses have collectively lost some 95% of revenues over the past two years.
“The government seems to think we’re in a recovery phase … we’re very much still in a survival phase,” she said.