Vaccinated Australian citizens and residents’ parents will be able to visit Sydney without quarantine starting November 1st.
The move announced by the government of the state of New South Wales (NSW) initially indicated that all tourists and foreign travelers could enter freely.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison later dismissed that idea.
Australia’s borders have been effectively closed since March 2020, which makes entry difficult even for citizens.
“We’re not opening up to everyone returning to Australia right now,” said Morrison.
He said Australians and family members would have priority, after which the nation would consider migrants, those on work and study visas, and the “challenge” of tourists.
“This is about Australian residents and citizens first,” said Morrison on Friday.
Rights have also been extended to parents of Australians, even if they are foreign nationals, so that Australians can be reunited with their family members living abroad.
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Hotel quarantine can be lifted in NSW thanks to the state’s high vaccination rate – almost 80% fully dosed for the eligible population over 12, the prime minister said.
Since the pandemic began, Australia has had some of the strictest border rules in the world.
There were tight upper limits on entry into the country and entry was almost entirely for citizens and permanent residents. Upon arrival, they had to undergo a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Australia’s strict border controls have also prevented people from leaving the country. That also ends in November, and people can travel when their state’s vaccination rate hits 80%.
Confusion arose on Friday when NSW Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet said Sydney would be “reopened to the world” and vaccinated all international travelers, regardless of their visa or citizenship situation.
However, this was not granted by the federal government, which is responsible for visas and entry into Australia.
“It is up to the federal government to decide at the international level when the border will be opened and closed,” said the Prime Minister.
NSW authorities had to clear up the political confusion on Friday.
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Sydney only emerged from a 107-day lockdown on Monday but is moving forward with the reopening to the rest of the world. NSW authorities say their state – the most populous in Australia – is a leader for the nation.
However, travel across the country remains severely restricted – as state borders remain closed as part of competing policies to contain viruses.
It is now likely that NSW residents could travel overseas before being allowed to visit another Australian state.
Mr Perrottet admitted the discrepancy on Friday, saying, “I think people in New South Wales will fly to Bali before Broome [in Western Australia].”
Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have all banned travelers from infected states like NSW and Victoria in an attempt to keep their case numbers down to zero.
These states have not indicated when they may reopen.
Australia has recorded more than 138,000 infections and just over 1,500 deaths from Covid-19.