Doors open Down Under on February 21 . . .
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday that the country’s borders would reopen to double vaccinated international travellers on February 21, ending nearly two years of tight border restrictions. Morrison positioned the move as one that balances a concern for public health with a desire to fully restart the country’s economic engine, particularly in struggling tourism and related sectors. COVID hospitalizations have declined by nearly a quarter from their maximum at the peak of the Omicron wave, while the 23,000 new COVID cases announced in the country on Monday number about one-sixth of the 150,000 daily record a month ago. While international borders will be flung open, state-specific restrictions remain in some states. Western Australia, for example, is still following a zero-COVID policy. But in a nod to looser restrictions, it today decreased the quarantine requirement for international and interstate travellers from 14 to seven days.
Opening amid protests . . .
Even as the Australian Prime Minister announced the border reopening, protests against public health restrictions and vaccines continued in Canberra, the country’s capital. Thousands of protesters have been gathering since last week. Over the weekend, they disrupted traffic around the city, including at the airport. Local business owners have reported aggressive and harassing behaviour by demonstrators, including the refusal to follow mask requirements. Tuesday’s protests at Parliament House, staged as a new session of Parliament began, have been mostly peaceful and were noticeably smaller than a large anti-vaccine demonstration in the city on Saturday. Ironically, with 98.6 per cent of its population over 12 being double vaccinated, Canberra is one of the most vaccinated cities in the world.
New Zealand’s more cautious strategy . . .
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country’s more cautious reopening strategy last Thursday. The five-stage plan focuses on gradually reducing the country’s reliance on Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) hotels for inbound travellers in favour of self-isolation. On February 27, self-isolation will begin for New Zealand citizens and some eligible travellers coming from Australia. The guidelines broaden to include New Zealand citizens travelling from the rest of the world two weeks later. The strategy will ultimately see the country open its borders to double vaccinated travellers coming from anywhere in the world in October. While the MIQ system has been an effective measure in contributing to low COVID infections in New Zealand, it has proved highly controversial as the months-long wait for authorized hotel spaces has effectively scuppered much travel to the country, including for New Zealanders overseas.
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation: Canberrans frustrated as COVID-19 vaccine protests continue to disrupt ACT as parliament returns
- BBC: Covid: Australia to reopen borders to international travel
- Radio New Zealand: Covid-19: Border reopening for New Zealanders confirmed for end of February - what you need to know