After 697 days, the last of Australia’s strict pandemic-era border restrictions have been lifted as the state of Western Australia reopens itself to vaccinated travelers.
Starting on Thursday, people arriving from other parts of Australia can enter Western Australia without quarantining if they have received three coronavirus vaccine doses and test negative for the virus upon arrival. Vaccinated international travelers need only have received two doses and a negative test result to enter without quarantining, while unvaccinated foreigners need an exemption to enter the country.
On Thursday, arrivals at Perth Airport, in the state’s capital, were greeted with hugs and tears, many reuniting with family or loved ones for the first time in two years. State authorities expect about 5,000 domestic and international travelers to flood into the state in the first 24 hours of the reopening.
“Tomorrow, we take a big step forward as our border controls come down,” the state’s premier, Mark McGowan, said at news conference on Wednesday. “Families can reunite without unduly risking the health of the state. It’s going to be good to see.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Australia slammed shut its borders, banning both international travel and movement between some states in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Western Australia restricted travel in and out of the state in April 2020 for all but exceptional circumstances.
As the months stretched on, the tough measures came under fire for separating Western Australians from loved ones. Criticism intensified at the end of last year when other states began to lift their domestic border restrictions and reopen to international students and some visa holders. Then on Feb. 21, Australia celebrated as it welcomed international travelers across the country — except in Western Australia.
Mr. McGowan has defended the border closures, saying they have saved lives and allowed Western Australians to live the past two years largely without pandemic restrictions, avoiding the harsh lockdowns that states like Victoria, which includes Melbourne, went through. Western Australia, which has a population of 2.7 million, has only had 11 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the state government.
Western Australia had planned to start easing border restrictions in February, but the move was delayed as the Omicron variant spread along Australia’s east coast. Omicron entered the state despite the border closure, and cases are still increasing in Western Australia.