Australia is ready to gradually reopen its borders, the country’s prime minister has announced, 18 months after citizens were banned from travelling overseas without permission and thousands of Australians left stranded abroad thanks to a strict quota on arrivals.
Australians will be able to return home and travel overseas “within weeks” as 80 percent vaccination targets are met, Scott Morrison announced at a press conference on Friday.
“The time has come to give Australians their life back. We’re getting ready for that, and Australia will be ready for takeoff, very soon,” Morrison said.
Officials say the state of New South Wales (NSW) is most likely to hit the 80 percent vaccine target before other states, and could become the “test-bed” for allowing Australians to leave the country.
“There will be a cautious and staged approach in terms of what’s undertaken,” Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told a local news channel.
Currently, the government has set a border ban until December 17. The new decision could mean that the restrictions will be lifted at least a month earlier.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, an estimated 210,679 Australians were granted approval by the Home Affairs department to fly overseas, while 122,131 applications were rejected.
Families have been split across continents, with nationals stranded overseas and foreign residents stuck in the country unable to see friends or relatives.
Fully vaccinated Australians will be allowed home sometime in November without going through the mandatory quarantine at hotels at a cost of thousands of dollars.
Instead, they will be able to quarantine at home for seven days on their return to the country.
Unvaccinated Australians will still be required to undergo quarantine at hotels or dedicated facilities for 14 days.
The exact timing will vary from state to state, but as indicated by Birmingham, NSW was likely to be the first state to welcome back international travellers.