SYDNEY, Oct 15 (Reuters) - The Australian city of Sydney
will allow the entry of fully vaccinated travellers from
overseas from Nov. 1 without the need for quarantine,
authorities said on Friday, although the easing of strict entry
controls will initially benefit only citizens.
The decision comes as New South Wales state, of which Sydney
is capital, is expected to reach an 80% first-vaccination dose
rate on Saturday, well ahead of the rest of Australia, which
will enable it to bring forward the entry of overseas arrivals
by several weeks.
"We need to rejoin the world. We can't live here in a hermit
kingdom. We've got to open up," New South Wales Premier Dominic
Australia closed its borders in March 2020 in response to
the coronavirus pandemic, allowing entry almost exclusively only
to citizens and permanent residents, who have to spend two weeks
in hotel quarantine at their expense.
As well as ditching plans for home quarantine, which had
been expected to replace hotel stays, Perrottet said New South
Wales would welcome all overseas arrivals.
But he was quickly overruled by Prime Minister Scott
Morrison who said the government would stick with plans to first
open the border to citizens and permanent residents.
"This is about Australian residents and citizens first,"
Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
"The (federal) government has made no decision to allow
other visa holders ... to come into Australia under these
arrangements," he said.
Unvaccinated travellers from overseas will also be allowed
back into New South Wales, but only 210 each week and they will
have to undergo hotel quarantine upon arrival.
Australians have been unable to travel internationally for
more than 18 months without a government waiver, and thousands
of citizens and permanent residents in other countries have been
unable to return after Canberra imposed a strict cap on arrivals
to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Many of these are now expected to return via Sydney, even
though some COVID-19 free states in Australia have closed their
borders to New South Wales.
Qantas Airways said it would bring forward the
restart of international flights from Sydney to London and Los
Angeles by two weeks to Nov. 1 and would consider bringing
forward the resumption of flights from some other places that
had been expected in December.
Major airlines like Singapore Airlines, Emirates
and United Airlines have continued to fly to Sydney
throughout the pandemic but due to strict passenger caps, most
of their revenue has been from cargo.
Singapore Airlines said it would open seats on all 17 of its
weekly flights to Sydney for sales to eligible travellers.
Previously, 10 of the flights had been cargo only.
New South Wales, meanwhile, reported 399 COVID-19 cases on
Friday, well down from the state's pandemic high of 1,599 in
Neighbouring Victoria state, where vaccination rates are
lower, reported 2,179 new locally acquired cases, down from a
record 2,297 a day earlier.
The capital Canberra on Friday exited a more than two-month
lockdown, allowing cafes, pubs and gyms to reopen with strict
social distancing rules.
Australia's overall coronavirus numbers are relatively low,
with some 139,000 cases and 1,506 deaths.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Colin Packham; additional
reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Richard Pullin, Robert
Birsel and Edwina Gibbs)