Australia welcomes back tourists with koala team tames

CANBERRA, Australia (AFP) – International tourists and business travelers began arriving in Australia with few restrictions on Monday, as families reunited in a weeping reunion after a separation of two years or more forced by some of the most draconian pandemic measures of any democracy in the world. .

Australia closed its borders to tourists in March 2020 in a bid to curb the local spread of COVID-19, but on Monday it removed its final travel restrictions for fully vaccinated passengers.

Crying British tourist Sue Whitton hugs her adult son Simon Whitton when he greets her at Melbourne airport.

“He’s seven hundred and twenty-four (days) apart and he’s my only son, and I’m alone, and that means the world to me,” the mother told reporters.

“I don’t want to leave him. I really don’t want to leave him. Oh, he’s just beautiful. Thanks for having me. We’re so grateful for that, so grateful,” she added.

Passengers at Sydney Airport were greeted by jubilant well-wishers waving koala toys and Australian favorites including Tim Tames chocolate cakes and vegemite boxes.

Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan was on standby to welcome the first arrivals on a Qantas flight from Los Angeles that landed at 6:20 a.m. local time.

“I think there will be a very strong recovery in our tourism market. Our wonderful experiences have not gone away,” Tehan said.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said all travelers will have their vaccination status checked prior to their arrival to avoid a repeat of the visa disaster for Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic..

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Djokovic obtained a visa through an automated process before leaving Spain to compete in the Australian Open in January but was deported after arriving in Melbourne because he had not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Tourism Australia director Philippa Harrison said she expects tourist numbers to take two years to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

“It really is a great start,” Harrison said. “That’s what the industry has been asking of us, you know, just bring our international guests back to us and we’ll take it from there”

On Monday, Qantas was bringing 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 easing restrictions..

“It’s been a tough two years for everyone in the tourism industry, but today is really one of the big steps on the road back to a full recovery, so we’re really excited today,” said Joyce.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 1.2 million people have visas to enter Australia with 56 international flights scheduled to land in the first 24 hours of the reopening of the borders.

On Monday, Australia reported 17,736 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, and 34 deaths. The death toll in Australia since the start of the epidemic has reached 4,929.

Australia imposed some of the world’s toughest travel restrictions on its citizens and permanent residents in March 2020 to prevent them from repatriating COVID-19.

Travelers had to apply for exemption from the travel ban, but tourism was not an acceptable reason. International students and skilled immigrants were prioritized when border restrictions were relaxed in November in response to an increase in the vaccination rate among the Australian population. Tourists from New Zealand, Japan and South Korea were also allowed early on.

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Australian states and territories also have their own COVID-19 rules; The most stringent is imposed by the state of Western Australia, which covers a third of the island continent.

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