Beginning Friday, foreign nationals granted special permission to fly to Australia take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their departure. Masks will also be compulsory on all international flights.
Australia has had a fortress-like approach to COVID-19. It closed its borders to most foreign travelers in March to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
But 25,000 overseas passengers have been granted travel exemptions since the pandemic began, while a similar number have been rejected. People allowed into Australia include those wishing to attend a funeral of a close relative, those needing urgent medical care or key workers with critical skills.
Arrivals, including foreign diplomats and transit passengers, now need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test at check-in prior to departure.
There are some exemptions. They include international air crew, children under the age of 4, and travelers flying from New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.
All passengers face 14 days’ mandatory hotel quarantine on arrival in Australia. Masks will also be compulsory on international flights into the country.
“These are difficult and will be challenging for many people, and I am apologetic that we need to put in place these restrictions,” said Greg Hunt, Australia’s federal health minister. “The fact that we have new, more virulent strains that are emerging around the world – these remind us of precisely why we have been able to keep Australians safe, but we have to be ever-vigilant and responding to international events as they occur.”
Australian citizens and permanent residents have been allowed to return to Australia. They, too, must go into quarantine in a hotel at their own expense, but they do not need to take a COVID-19 test before their flight home.
Along with border closures, mass screenings for the coronavirus have been a key part in Australia’s strategy to contain the virus. More than 12.5 million tests – an average of one for every two people – have been carried out.
Strict lockdowns have also been important, and there are signs the economic harm inflicted by the pandemic is beginning to ease.
Official government figures show that nine out of 10 of the jobs lost during the coronavirus crisis were recovered before Christmas, with the Australian economy rebounding as outbreaks were brought under control.
The health department estimates there are 170 active COVID-19 infections in Australia.
Nearly 29,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in Australia since the pandemic began, and 909 people have died, according to the department of health.