International tourists will be allowed to return to Australia in just two weeks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday that, after almost two years of foreign travellers being banned from the country, fully vaccinated tourists will be able to arrive from February 21.
The decision followed a meeting of cabinet’s national security committee on Monday.
Australia closed its borders to international arrivals on March 20, 2020, as the first wave of the virus surged around the world.
They were largely reopened in late 2021, but entry was initially only for citizens, permanent residents and their families. It was later expanded to international students, backpackers and migrant workers.
Unvaccinated travellers will still have to apply for exemptions, and face two weeks quarantine if they are allowed to land. Two doses of an approved COVID vaccine will be considered fully vaccinated.
Mr Morrison said the February 21 change 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 said 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.
Health experts have previously indicated Australia’s virus situation was improving, with Omicron cases across the country plateauing.
Tourism operators have experienced downturns due to the virus and the loss of foreign visitors, and have urged the government to lift the ban on tourists.
Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said while the border reopening would be great to see, a clear plan was needed.
She wants 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 said 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 came as a decline in cases and contact tracing efforts led to some jurisdictions scaling back contact-tracing apps. The ACT and Queensland announced changes to check-in apps on Monday.
On Monday, there were 14 COVID in NSW, and seven fatalities in Victoria. There were also 19 in Queensland, five in South Australia and one each in the ACT and Tasmania.
The latest case numbers showed 7347 new infections in NSW and 8275 in Victoria. Queensland registered 4701 cases and SA 1147, while Tasmania had 443 and the ACT had 299.