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Australia Eases More COVID-19 Restrictions

FILE - People walk through a street market in the city center in Sydney, Australia, Nov. 19, 2021.
FILE - People walk through a street market in the city center in Sydney, Australia, Nov. 19, 2021.

Australia has had some of the world’s strictest disease-control measures. Some of those last remaining COVID-19 restrictions now are being eased.

At the height of the pandemic, millions of people were forced into protracted lockdowns, masks were mandatory and many front-line workers, including medical staff and teachers, were told be vaccinated or face losing their jobs.

Australia banned most foreign nationals after closing its borders in March 2020, and Australians needed government permission to leave the country.

Tens of thousands of Australian citizens were trapped overseas, some unable to return home for months because of border restrictions and a lack of flights.

Australia’s COVID fortress has been dismantled and its borders have reopened with few, if any, restrictions. Other pandemic measures have persisted, but they are now being wound back.

Apart from workers in hospitals and nursing homes, the mandatory isolation period for people infected with the virus will be cut from seven to five days, if they do not have any symptoms.

Masks will no longer be required on domestic flights. The measures will come into effect Sept. 9.

However, public health experts warn the restrictions could trigger another wave of infections. They believe about a third of COVID-19 patients are still potentially infectious on day six and seven after they contract the virus.

“We will be watching very closely at how this plays out in terms of pressure on hospitals, and we will be calling on the government to revise that if we find that things are getting worse,” said Steve Robson, president of the Australian Medical Association, which represents many doctors and other health care professionals. “I think a lot of what we have seen from overseas is literally catastrophic.”

The United Kingdom abandoned its legal requirement for COVID patients to self-isolate several months ago. In England, adults with symptoms are advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until they recover.

Germany recently shortened its isolation period to five days. France lowered its requirement from 10 days to seven, with COVID-positive patients allowed to leave isolation on day five if they return a negative test. Japan’s isolation period remains at 10 days for those with symptoms.

Australia has recorded more than 10 million coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic. Almost 14,000 people have died, according to government data.

Nearly 12,000 new infections were reported Friday.