SYDNEY (VOA) — After almost two years of strict COVID-19 controls, Australia has reopened its borders to skilled migrants, students and backpackers. Australia banned most foreign nationals in March 2020 under some of the world’s toughest coronavirus restrictions.
Holders of various working and student visas are now allowed into Australia without requiring an exemption if they are fully vaccinated. Japanese and South Korean nationals are also permitted into the country.
Australia had already relaxed travel restrictions to allow the return of citizens, permanent residents and their families.
All arrivals will have to follow the quarantine rules of the state or territory to which they travel. There are no entry restrictions on travelers entering the states of New South Wales and Victoria. However, international passengers need government approval to travel to Western Australia.
Industries across the country — from agriculture to hospitality — that rely on short term workers have been struggling to find staff since the country closed its borders in March 2020. They hope the reopening of Australia’s international borders will ease the worker shortage.
Universities are also preparing to welcome back overseas students.
Yongxin Lyu has arrived from Hong Kong to study at the University of New South Wales.
“It is actually a mixed feeling of (it being) very exciting but also because everything is new here and this is my first time to live in a foreign country. So, a little bit nervous,” Lyu said.
It is also so-called “Freedom Day” for the unvaccinated in the state of New South Wales, where many restrictions will end for those who have not been inoculated.
New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard is expecting coronavirus infections to increase, but says there are no plans to reimpose restrictions.
“Once the unvaccinated are mixing in with the vaccinated you would have to expect the numbers will increase even further and that is worrying because that puts pressure on our doctors and our nurses. We are not about to start back-flipping on issues that we have promised the community we will do,” Hazzard said.
Australia is relaxing disease control measures despite rising infections and concerns about the effectiveness of vaccines against the omicron variant.
New South Wales Wednesday recorded 1,360 new COVID-19 infections, its highest daily total since mid-September.
Australia has detected about 230,000 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. Some 2,100 people have died. The health department has said that 89.5% of the eligible Australian population is fully vaccinated.