Australia has announced that the first trickle of foreign visitors – including certain visa holders and holidaymakers – will be allowed in from next month. But when might British travellers finally be allowed to visit?
These are the key questions and answers.
What has changed in Australia?
Since early November, Australians and permanent residents have been able to travel freely in and out of the country. After almost 600 days of strict travel shutdown, the “Fortress Australia” policy is finally over.
As the coronavirus pandemic gathered pace, spread rapidly around the world by aviation, non-essential international leisure travel in and out of Australia was banned on 24 March 2020.
At the time, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said: “We will be living with this virus for at least six months.”
The only exemptions applied when travel was deemed to be “essential or necessary,” in Australia’s national interest, or on “compassionate and humanitarian grounds”.
Anyone travelling to Australia was obliged to go into two weeks of managed isolation, either in a hotel or at a camp such as Howard Springs in the Northern Territory.
The measures have caused immense emotional and economic harm.
Since 1 November Australian citizens and permanent residents who have been fully vaccinated at least a week previously have been able to travel abroad and return.
People who can show proof they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons can also travel without an exemption.
Airlines are increasing flights – and in particular Qantas has re-established its London-Sydney link, though with a stop in Darwin rather than Singapore.
The first flight touched down in Sydney shortly before 9am GMT on Wednesday 3 November.
On 22 November, Morrison announced that further double jabbed visitors would be allowed into the country from 1 December.
Speaking at a news conference in Canberra, he said: “From 1 December 2021, fully vaccinated eligible visa holders will be able to come to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption.”
He described the types of traveller who will be given access as: “Eligible visa holders, including skilled and student cohorts, as well as humanitarian, temporary, working holidaymaker and provisional family visa holders.”
Following the “travel bubble” with fully vaccinated travellers from Singapore, which started 21 November, Morrison also announced a similar arrangement for double-jabbed visitors from Japan and South Korea, who will be allowed in without quarantine from 1 December.
“The steps we are taking today are about securing our economic recovery,” said Morrison.
All travellers who meet the above criteria must provide proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test taken within the three days before departure
What about quarantine?
The Australian Department of Health says: “Quarantine arrangements are at the discretion of the state or territory of arrival.”
At present, travellers returning to Australia may enter New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) without quarantine, and travel between the three.
They must merely take a PCR test within three days of the scheduled departure time.
In contrast, Western Australia (WA) says: “If you travel from outside of Australia directly to WA, you must complete 14 days of hotel quarantine upon arrival in WA at a government approved facility at your own expense.
“If you travel from outside of Australia to another Australian state or territory, you will not be permitted to enter WA unless you have spent 14 days in Australia and you meet the conditions of entry of the states or territories you are travelling from or through.”
In Queensland, meanwhile, travellers from overseas are told: “On arrival to Queensland you will be met by an emergency officer and served with a Quarantine Direction Notice and transport to your government arranged accommodation will be provided.”
From 1 December, the above groups of fully vaccinated, eligible visa holders – such as student visa holders, working holidaymakers and family visa holders – will be allowed into Australia quarantine-free, along with double-jabbed travellers from Singapore, Japan and South Korea.
Has anything changed for people who are neither Australian nor permanent residents?
Only for double-jabbed travellers from Singapore, Japan and South Korea.
For everyone else, and unvaccinated people from those three countries, the same rules remain in place.
British travellers, even fully vaccinated ones, still need a government exemption or to be able to prove they are an “immediate family member” to be able to enter (as of 1 November, this includes the parents of adult Australian citizens and permanent residents).
If you think you are eligible for an exemption, you must apply online via the Australian government website.
You can also enter Australia in order to connect for international flights, as long as your stopover is less than 72 hours.
If your next flight is less than eight hours after your arrival, you need to stay at the airport.
Any longer? “Go to mandatory quarantine at a state designated facility.”
Note that transit passengers cannot travel within Australia, even by air to take an international flight departing from another city.
It’s not an emergency – I just want to see family. When can I hope to go?
Non-immediate family members being able to visit will depend on a change of mind by prime minister Scott Morrison – who, incidentally, was managing director of Tourism Australia from 2003 to 2006.
He has made very few remarks about foreign tourists as the travel landscape has changed, instead prioritising skilled workers migrating to Australia and international students.
“We will get to international visitors as well, I believe next year,” Mr Morrison said last month, almost as an afterthought.
Tourism appears so low on the agenda that many industry insiders had concluded the country’s borders will not open to outsiders until the second half of the year, starting in July 2022 at the earliest. In the southern states, this would be the depths of winter.
But some political shenanigans involving the premiers (state leaders) of the two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, could see the pace accelerated.
What’s the background?
NSW premier Dominic Perrottet and Victoria premier Daniel Andrews announced the ending of quarantine for returning Australians from 1 November ahead of the federal government.
Their decisions have stuck – with fully vaccinated people who were already in quarantine released from self-isolation.
Mr Perrottet has expressed serious concern about the way that NSW businesses have been hit by the ban on international travellers, and is pushing for an early reopening.
There are also widespread concerns that as airlines rebuild their schedules, they will assign aircraft and crews to routes that are open to international tourism.
Some insiders now say that March 2022 is a likely prospect for opening up to international visitors.
When will we know more?
The Australian and state governments will study the impact of the partial reopening closely.
If no significant harm is detected from allowing Australians to travel abroad and return, then pressure will grow from the two biggest states to open up to visiting friends and relations, business travellers and tourists.
What about the other states?
International tourism is very important to Queensland, the third-largest state. If tourists return to NSW and Victoria, the state government in Brisbane is thought likely to open up too.
Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania appear to be more wary. It could be that international visitors hoping to travel to these states will need to spend two weeks elsewhere in Australia before they are allowed to travel to these states.
When it does open up, will Australia have a ‘traffic light’ system for classifying international visitors?
No, which is good news for British travellers – the UK is on the high-risk lists of a large number of countries due to its high levels of Covid-19.
As with the impending US reopening, the departure point is irrelevant – the sole criterion will be vaccination.
Will my vaccinations be recognised?
Probably. The vaccine must be “approved or recognised by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration”.
Recognised vaccines include AstraZeneca (both Vaxzevria and Covishield), Pfizer BioNtech, Moderna, Janssen, Bharat (Covaxin), Sinovac, and Sinopharm; the last of these is approved only for 18 to 60-year-olds.
In addition, you will be expected to provide a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of the departure of your flight to Australia.
Will children be exempt?
At present, the only exemption for unvaccinated Australian children is for under-12s.
What flights will be available?
As well as the Qantas London Heathrow-Darwin-Sydney services, a link via Darwin to Melbourne will start later in November.
The only other direct flight from the UK is a proposed daily service from London Heathrow via Singapore to Sydney on British Airways, starting on Sunday 27 March 2022. The start date could change either way, depending on Australian government decisions.
It is likely that Emirates will, once again, be the leading provider of seats between the UK and Australia. The airline has multiple departures from several British airports, and transfers at the airline’s Dubai hub are relatively restriction-free.
Passengers from the UK with connections are not required to take a test for the UAE (though one will be required by Australia).