CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia advised its nationals traveling overseas on Thursday to “exercise a high degree of caution” as it prepares to open its borders for the first time in 19 months.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reinstated its travel advice for 177 countries and territories ahead of fully vaccinated Australians becoming free to travel from Monday.
No destination has been given a risk assessment lower than the second-tier warning: “Exercise a high degree of caution.”
The vast majority of Australian permanent residents and citizens have been stranded in the island nation since March last year by some of the most draconian pandemic restrictions of any democracy. They had to request exemptions from the ban and demonstrate exceptional circumstances. Most requests were rejected or approved too late for Australians to reach death beds or funerals. Travel to and from Australia for tourism has never been allowed.
A few categories of citizen, including public servants on government business, were exempt from the international travel ban.
International travel will be initially restricted to Sydney’s airport because New South Wales has the highest vaccination rate of any state. More than 86% of the population of Australia’s most populous state aged 16 and older are fully vaccinated, and over 93% of the target population had received at least a single vaccine shot.
Initially only Australian permanent residents and citizens will be free to travel. Fully vaccinated foreigners traveling on skilled worker and student visas will be given priority over international tourists.
But the government expects Australia will welcome international tourists back before the year ends.
The reopening of the border for the vaccinated has created complications for families traveling from countries that, unlike Australia, don’t offer vaccines to children as young as 12.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said children of vaccinated parents would not be required to go into hotel quarantine in Sydney like other returning unvaccinated Australians.
“We’re not splitting up families,” Kelly said.
Australia has gone from one of the lowest vaccination rates among wealthy countries, due to a lack of supply and vaccine hesitancy, to one of the highest. On Nov. 8, it will start offering a third booster Pfizer shot to its entire adult population at least six months after their second jab.