Two years since Australia’s borders snapped shut due to COVID-19, international tourists have been allowed back into the country, sparking joyous scenes at airports nationwide.
An early morning Qantas flight from Los Angeles to Sydney was the first to touch down on Monday after the border officially reopened, with passengers receiving Tim Tams, Vegemite and stuffed koalas.
Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said the reopening of borders had been a long time coming for the sector.
“What wonderful, wonderful news for our tourism industry and the 660,000 people employed in it,” he told the Nine Network.
“There is excitement everywhere, people are loving it, absolutely loving it.”
Travellers coming to Australia will need to be double vaccinated without having to undergo quarantine.
Vaccination status will be checked by the airlines before taking off, with digital passenger declaration also able to be checked by border officials.
Before Monday only citizens, permanent residents and their families were able to enter, along with skilled workers and international students.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the arrival of tourists back to the country, indicating the tourism sector would rebound after a difficult two years with the virus.
However, Mr Morrison said it would still take some time before international travel to Australia reached pre-pandemic levels.
“There is a lot of work to go to rebuild all of those supply channels to bring tourists to Australia,” he told reporters in Tasmania on Monday.
“We will see it built up over time, but it’s going to require a lot of effort working closely with the tourism industry to ensure they build this back up.”
Managing director of Tourism Australia Phillipa Harrison said those in the industry were keen to welcome back visitors.
“We know Australia remains an incredibly desirable destination for international visitors and we can’t wait to once again share all the unforgettable tourism experiences we have to offer,” she said.
“There is no doubt the last two years have been very challenging for the tourism industry.”
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said bookings had been strong since the federal government announced the country was opening on February 21 after borders were shut two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Joyce thanked the millions of Australians who got vaccinated and gave Australian governments confidence to reopen to the rest of the world.
“It has been a tough two years for everybody in the tourism industry, but today is really one of the big steps on the way back to a full recovery,” he told the Nine Network.
Mr Joyce said the airline is bringing 14,000 people into the country this week on more than 150 international flights.
Meanwhile, there were a further 16 deaths from COVID-19 in the past reporting period.
Of those, seven were in NSW while five were reported in Queensland, three in Victoria and one in the ACT.
More than 15,000 positive cases of the virus were reported on Monday.
(Australian Associated Press)