Australian border to reopen for first time in pandemic

Australia will reopen its international border from November, giving long-awaited freedoms to vaccinated citizens and their relatives.

Since March 2020, Australia has had some of the world's strictest border rules - even banning its own people from leaving the country.

The policy has been praised for helping to suppress Covid, but it has also controversially separated families.

"It's time to give Australians their lives back," PM Scott Morrison said.

People would be eligible to travel when their state's vaccination rate hit 80%, Mr Morrison told a press briefing on Friday.

Travel would not immediately be open to foreigners, but the government said it was working "towards welcoming tourists back to our shores".

Amy Hayes, who lives in the English town of Reading, Berkshire, and has not been back to Queensland in nearly three years, said it was "encouraging to see things moving in the right direction".

"But I'll believe the borders have reopened when I see it and hear the stories of stranded Aussies being able to get home uninhibited," she told BBC News.

Henry Aldridge is excited to fly back to the UK for Christmas to see his parents and five siblings in London. His partner Shana, a nurse from Ireland who lives with him in Sydney, nearly broke down when they heard the news.

"We're pretty excited," he told the BBC. "The first year and a half [of the pandemic] we looked on at the UK and thought, we're pretty happy here. But the last few months haven't been ideal."

He said as the lockdowns were extended and the country recorded more and more cases, the travel ban started to feel "a bit absurd".

"It seemed silly - you still have to quarantine to come home to a country that's in lockdown," he said.


But David Mullahey in Western Australia - which has restricted entry to Australians in other parts of the country - told the BBC he was against changing the travel rules.

"Covid has hardly touched us here and we've had limited deaths. Why should we risk being put in the same scenario as Victoria and New South Wales?" he said.

"I don't see how we can consider lifting international border controls when the government can't control Covid in those states."

At present, people can leave Australia - which has recorded more than 107,000 cases of Covid-19 and just over 1,300 deaths - only for exceptional reasons such as essential work or visiting a dying relative.

Entry is permitted for citizens and others with exemptions, but there are tight caps on arrival numbers. This has left tens of thousands stranded overseas.

Mr Morrison said Australia's mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine - which costs each traveller A$3,000 (£1,600; $2,100) - would be replaced by seven days of home quarantine for vaccinated Australians or permanent residents.

 Unvaccinated travellers must still quarantine for 14 days in hotels.

Australian carrier Qantas responded by announcing it would restart its international flying a month earlier. It had already put flights to major overseas destinations on sale from 18 December.

Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are currently in lockdown due to outbreaks of the virus.

That has helped prompt a surge in the vaccine uptake in recent months.