(Sydney) Australia reopened its borders on Monday, nearly 600 days after closing it, an event that sparked scenes of reunions at Sydney Airport.
On March 20, 2020, the mega-island continent implemented one of the world’s toughest border closures to protect itself from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tens of thousands of Australians living abroad have not been able to return home for 19 months. Thefts were rare and citizens allowed to return had to undergo an expensive 14-day quarantine at the hotel.
The country’s two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, have decided to scrap these measures and fully vaccinated Australians can now travel without quarantine.
Australia’s Qantas had grounded a large part of its fleet and CEO Alan Joyce was happy to resume international flights that “took too long to arrive”.
“It is great to see that Australians can be reunited with their loved ones after such a long period of separation,” he said.
“It’s a big day for Australia,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, posting a message on Facebook saying the country was “now ready to go!” “.
At Sydney Airport at dawn on Monday, the first passengers who disembarked released their joy, leading to touching scenes of hugs.
He told reporters Tim Turner, who has not seen his son in a year, the arrival was “fantastic”.
Julie Chu, returning from the UK, admitted that she fought back tears when she landed.
“I can’t wait to touch my mother’s hand when I see her. I can’t wait to hold her in my arms,” explained this Australian, who came back to see her mother in hospital. “It would be very touching.”
For some, like Lucinda Botlero, the reopening comes too late.
“I haven’t seen my family for four years, and we’ve been trying to get in for a year and a half,” she lamented.
“I have mixed feelings because I could never see my father alive again. He passed away only a week ago […] But it’s still good to be able to attend his funeral.”
While some disembarked, others prepared to travel far to find loved ones abroad.
Abhi Bajaj, 35, said he was “overwhelmed” by being able to head to the US to celebrate Christmas with his family, after two years without seeing them.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” he told AFP before leaving for Los Angeles.
It is expected that the frequency of flights will gradually resume, even if the number of passengers in the first flights is small.
More than a million foreign residents remain stranded in Australia, unable to return to see their friends or family, with mitigation measures applied primarily to Australian citizens.
Some Australian states with a low vaccination rate will remain virtually closed. A mandatory 14-day quarantine will remain in effect.
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