The arrivals hall at Perth airport was filled with joy and hugs after midnight when the first interstate planes to take advantage of Western Australia’s border reopening landed.
After spending almost 700 days behind a hard border during the coronavirus pandemic, WA is finally welcoming vaccinated travellers.
About 5000 people will arrive on Thursday across 22 domestic flights and five international flights and tens of thousands are expected to follow in the coming weeks.
The first flight to hit the ground after midnight was a Qantas ‘red eye’ from Sydney.
Jubilant scenes lifted the domestic terminal as the more than 200 passengers were greeted by family and friends.
Television footage showed passengers crying “I’m so excited!”, “Finally!”.
One of the travellers was federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, who will be campaigning in the seats of Pearce and Hasluck from Thursday to Saturday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was also expected to visit WA after the border came down but is isolating in Sydney as he recovers from COVID-19.
WA is the last jurisdiction in Australia to open its border to air travellers but there are some restrictions, including a requirement to be triple vaccinated, complete a travel entry pass and wear masks in the terminal. It’s already a national requirement to wear a mask on planes.
“Australia is now finally back together,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.
“This day has been a long time coming.
“It will be an emotional day for those reuniting with loved ones.”
Premier Mark McGowan originally planned to reopen in February but this was delayed due to the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 within Australia over the summer.
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said he expected an influx of travellers after almost 23,000 travel applications were received by Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, getting a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will now be easier for people who can’t use an mRNA vaccine, like Pfizer, after the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation recommended the Novavax vaccine.
Novavax can now be used for those over 18 when an mRNA vaccine is not suitable, and also as a booster shot.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said that since Novavax was first approved by the country’s medical regulator more than 25,000 doses had been administered as a first dose.
On Wednesday, more than 60 deaths from COVID-19 were reported across the country, including 28 in Victoria, 24 in Queensland, five in NSW, two in South Australia and two in the Northern Territory.
More than 29,000 new infections were detected, including 10,650 were in NSW, 7126 in Victoria, 5011 in Queensland, 2075 in SA, 1780 in WA, 1053 in the ACT, 624 in the NT and 868 in Tasmania.