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Game changer: Australia to finally open borders to all double jabbed travellers

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Australia’s ban on international tourists will end on February 21 after a decision by the federal government, with double vaccination required for entry.

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Tourism and travel companies greeted the news with unabashed joy, while share prices for several key players in the sector surged on the announcement.

After almost two years of foreign travellers not being allowed to come to the country, fully vaccinated tourists will be able to arrive in a matter of days.

The decision comes following a meeting of cabinet’s national security committee on Monday.

While the international borders have been opened since late 2021, entry has only been allowed for citizens, permanent residents and their families, with it later expanded to international students, backpackers and migrant workers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the move would be a welcome boost to the tourism sector.

“I know the tourism industry will be looking forward to that, and over the next two weeks they’ll get the opportunity both for visitors to be coming and for them to be gearing up to welcome international visitors back to Australia,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“The condition is you must be double vaccinated to come to Australia. That’s the rule. Everyone is expected to abide by it.”

State-based caps on quarantine will also continue, with the caps still being determined by state and territory governments.

While health officials are debating whether to change the domestic definition of fully vaccinated to include having had a booster shot, Morrison said two doses would be enough for international travellers to arrive.

The prime minister said the definition would not be changed for tourists to enter the country.

“We’ve been very careful looking at the impact, particularly when Omicron hit, and how that would flow through,” he said.

“But the fact is here in Australia, the variant is here, and for those who are coming in who are double vaccinated they don’t present any greater risk than those who are already here in Australia.”

Flight Centre called the re-opening of the international borders an “absolute game changer” for the industry.

The reopening decision lit a fire under travel stocks. Flight Centre jumped 7 per cent, Webjet was up 3 per cent and Corporate Travel Management rose 6 per cent.

Brisbane Airport Corporation said it was ecstatic at the announcement.

“Today’s announcement gives much-needed certainty to airports, airlines, tourism operators, and everyone involved in the international visitation industry,” it said

“More importantly, today is an extraordinary day for families and friends who have been apart throughout the pandemic, as they can now reunite on their own terms with their loved ones.”

Flight Centre Corporate managing director James Kavanagh said it was a momentous day for business.

“It is they (business) who will lead this country’s economic fightback and there is no doubt this is an absolute game changer when it comes to Australia being open to the world once again,” Kavanagh said.

“It has been a long time coming but the critical part is once we open to the world, we stay open, and that will naturally inject real confidence into people wanting to travel. Confidence is already rising in the leisure space across the world, now it is time for that to happen in the corporate space.

“There is no doubt visas, exemptions and quarantine have all been a big hindrance to the corporate world and although we expect some meetings and some events to still exist in a virtual or hybrid manner, now is the time to get on planes to see colleagues, clients and potential new customers.”

While the country’s aged sector has been grappling with large numbers of Omicron cases and deaths, the prime minister also announced up to 1700 defence force members would be deployed to residential facilities to assist staff.

Health experts have previously indicated Australia’s virus situation was improving, with Omicron cases across the country plateauing.

Tourism operators had been experiencing a downturn due to the virus and the loss of foreign visitors, and had been calling on the government to lift the ban on tourists arriving.

Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said while the border reopening would be great to see, a clear plan was needed.

She wants to see guarantees of border officials being able to properly check vaccination statuses, as well as measures for airports to cope with the demand once tourism resumes.

“I think the borders should take into account the health advice and of course it’s important to consider where or not our hospitals can cope,” she told reporters earlier on Monday in Canberra.

“What I’m pointing to are the practical steps that have not been done by this government and the problems that will arise if they don’t do the hard work.”

It comes as a decline in cases and contact tracing efforts have led to some jurisdictions scaling back contact tracing apps, with the ACT and Queensland on Monday making changes to their check-in apps.

On Monday, 19 Covid-19 deaths were reported in Queensland, and there were seven fatalities in Victoria, while there were 14 in NSW, and one in both the ACT and Tasmania.

The latest case numbers showed there were 7347 new infections in NSW and 8275 in Victoria, while Queensland registered 4701 cases, Tasmania had 443 and the ACT had 299.

-with AAP

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