Australia, which closed its borders in March 2020, has been gradually reopening its borders since November, allowing first Australians, then international students and workers, and now leisure travellers to travel.
On Saturday, Australia reported 43 coronavirus-related deaths as it prepares to welcome international tourists for the first time in nearly two years on Monday.
Australia’s borders will reopen to fully vaccinated travellers on February 21, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, lifting arguably of the world’s tightest and longest-standing pandemic travel restrictions.
The country, which was formerly a proponent of a zero-COVID strategy, has learned to live with the coronavirus in the community, owing to high vaccination rates that have resulted in fewer severe cases and hospitalizations.
Even Western Australia, a mining-heavy state that has been closed to triple-vaccinated visitors for nearly 700 days, has concluded it can handle the Omicron outbreak and will return to them.
On Saturday, the state registered 257 new community infections, the largest number yet, but no deaths. The deaths in Australia were mostly recorded in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland, areas that continue to receive tens of thousands of cases each day or more.
On Monday, Victoria, Australia’s second-largest state, will launch a new quarantine centre for unvaccinated international visitors.
“The Omicron variant has showed us the importance of remaining adaptable in our pandemic response – and the purpose-built (hub) will be critical to how we manage pandemics today and in the future,” Lisa Neville, the state’s police minister in charge of quarantining, said on Saturday.
New Zealand, Australia’s nearest neighbour, registered 1,901 community cases on one of its busiest days, despite keeping its international borders almost shut.
Both countries have high vaccination rates, with more than 94 percent of persons aged 16 and above receiving a double dose in Australia and 94 percent of those aged 12 and up receiving a full vaccination in New Zealand.