It has been nearly two years since tourists have been able to cross Australia’s borders, blocked by some of the toughest travel restrictions in the world to combat the spread of Covid-19. Corn “the wait is over”, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a press conference on Sunday evening. Australia reopened its external borders on Monday February 21 (Sunday evening February 20, French time) to all vaccinated tourists
“Pack your bags”Mr Morrison told potential visitors to the island continent, adding: “Don’t forget to bring your cash with you, as you will find plenty of places to spend it”. Closing borders has cost 2.27 billion euros each month, according to the country’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“Worrying signs” about the recovery of tourism
The first international flight to Sydney Airport was scheduled to arrive from Los Angeles on Monday at 6 a.m. Australian time (8 p.m. Paris time), followed by others from Tokyo, Vancouver and Singapore. Only fifty-six international flights are expected to land in Australia within 24 hours of the reopening of borders, well below pre-pandemic levels. Scott Morrison, however, said he did not have ” no doubt “ that this number would increase over time.
To attract tourists, the Australian government has launched an advertising campaign of 40 million Australian dollars (25 million euros). But the Australian Council (ATEC) responsible for international tourism has mentioned “worrying signs” regarding a possible reluctance of foreigners to return to Australia, due to the various internal restrictions on travel, and the image that the draconian closure of the country for two years would have left.
For example, travelers will not be able to reach the vast state of Western Australia before March 3. In this region, the authorities have in recent months conducted a particularly strict policy known as “zero Covid”cutting it off from the rest of Australia.
Australia had closed its borders in March 2020, trying to take advantage of its insularity to protect itself from the pandemic. At first, for several months, this draconian closure and a strict screening and tracing policy made it possible to contain the effects of the virus.
The arrival of the Omicron variant then aggravated the situation, leading to tens of thousands of contaminations and tens of deaths per day. In total, in almost two years, Covid-19 has killed 4,913 people in Australia. More than 15,200 new cases were recorded there on Sunday, well below the historic peak of 277,619 cases on January 30.
During these two years, Australians were mostly not allowed to leave their country, and only a few visitors obtained an exemption to enter the territory, which earned the country the nickname of “Fortress Australia”. These restrictions have separated families, hurt the tourism sector and sparked debates about Australia’s status as an open, modern and outward-looking country.