International tourists have begun arriving in Australia for the first time in two years, sparking scenes of celebration across the country as family and friends reunited.
Travellers were greeted at Sydney airport by jubilant well-wishers waving Tim-Tams, jars of Vegemite and stuffed koalas as international border restrictions lifted on Monday after almost two years.
Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan was on hand to welcome the first arrivals on a Qantas flight from Los Angeles which landed at 6.20am as Australia’s borders reopened to vaccinated travellers.
“What wonderful, wonderful news for our tourism industry and the 660,000 people employed in it,” Mr Tehan told the Nine Network.
“There is excitement everywhere, people are loving it, absolutely loving it.
“The first passenger (to enter the arrivals hall) had a huge smile on their face even though they have been on a plane for … 20-odd hours.”
Similar scenes followed in Melbourne and Brisbane.
But Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said all travellers would be checked before arrival to avoid another Novak Djokovic visa debacle.
Ms Andrews said while the border reopening has been marked with optimism, Border Force agents would be working hard to ensure all travellers comply with the current requirements, including needing to be double-vaccinated.
Vaccination statuses will be checked by the airlines before taking off and the new digital passenger declaration will make it easier for officials to access appropriate documents, the home affairs minister said.
“When they reach Australia, there is every chance that an Australian Border Force official will look for their documentation and ask them to be able to produce it,” she told the ABC.
“Now, whilst we’re not checking every single person coming in at the border, the checks prior to entry make it very clear that you have got virtually no chance of being able to enter this country if you don’t have the proper documentation.”
Qantas on Monday is bringing in people from eight overseas destinations including Vancouver, Singapore, London, and Delhi.
CEO Alan Joyce said bookings had been strong since the federal government announced the country was opening on February 21 after borders were shut two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Joyce thanked the millions of Australians who got vaccinated and gave Australian governments confidence to reopen to the rest of the world.
“It has been tough two years for everybody in the tourism industry, but today is really one of the big steps on the way back to a full recovery so we are very excited about today,” he told the Nine Network.
Mr Joyce said the airline is bringing 14,000 people into the country this week on more than 150 international flights.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday was an important day that all Australians had looked forward to.
“Whether you are in far north Queensland or in Sydney … that is going to be welcome news for so many tourism operators,” he told Sydney’s 2GB.
“You don’t have to be a long way away from the city to be reliant on international tourism.”
There are 1.2 million people around the world who are “visa-ed up” to come to Australia with more than 50 international flights to touch down in the next 24-hours, the prime minister said.
However, travellers from Australia’s biggest tourism market, China, will be absent because Chinese travellers are not allowed to venture to Australia at the moment, Mr Morrison said.
“That’s why we’re focusing our campaign on those markets that are open to travel to Australia,” he said.
Victoria is opening its newly built $200 million quarantine hub on Monday for those international travellers who are not vaccinated, while Queensland’s purpose-built 500-bed quarantine centre near Toowoomba is likely to house unvaccinated international arrivals.