Australia to open its borders to vaccinated travelers starting Feb. 21

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison gesturing
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media in Canberra on Monday.
(Mick Tsikas / AAP Image)

Australia will open its borders to all vaccinated tourists and business travelers from Feb. 21 in a further relaxation of pandemic restrictions that was announced Monday.

Australia imposed some of the world’s toughest travel controls in March 2020 to prevent the coronavirus from entering the country, which shut out virtually all foreigners and left thousands of Australia’s own citizens and permanent residents stranded abroad.

When the border restrictions were relaxed in November in response to an increasing vaccination rate among the Australian population, international students and skilled migrants were prioritized over tourists in being welcomed back to Australia.


Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his senior ministers agreed Monday that the border would reopen to all vaccinated travelers from Feb. 21.

Morrison said visitors must have proof of vaccination against COVID-19. He alluded to Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic’s deportation by the Australian government last month because he was unvaccinated.

“Events earlier in the year should have sent a very clear message, I think, to everyone around the world that that is the requirement to enter into Australia,” Morrison said.

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has swept across Australia despite the country’s high vaccination rate and strict border policies.

The Djokovic case demonstrated that visitors’ gaining visas through an automated process before setting off for Australia does not guarantee that they will meet entry requirements upon arrival.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said visitors who could provide proof of a medical reason why they could not be vaccinated could apply for a travel exemption.

Visitors to Australia could also have to contend with varying state coronavirus rules if they move around the country. The strictest border rules are those of Western Australia state, which covers a third of the continent. Home to the city of Perth, Western Australia allows only 265 international arrivals a week and requires a 14-day quarantine period.

Australia delayed its phased-in border reopening after two Australians who returned from southern Africa on Nov. 27 became the first to test positive for the Omicron variant. Arrivals of foreign students and skilled workers were postponed by two weeks, to Dec. 15.

Canberra, the Australian capital, is put in lockdown for a week after a single COVID-19 case was detected and the coronavirus was found in wastewater.

Tourism companies have been lobbying the government to bring tourists back sooner. The Southern Hemisphere summer is in its final month.

“Australian tourism businesses will rejoice in the news that our borders will reopen to all international travelers,” said Peter Shelley, managing director of the Australian Tourism Export Council.

“It’s been a long, hard and desperate road for every tourism business across the country, and we have lost many along the way, but this news will give those who have survived a clear target to work towards and a start point for the rebuilding of the industry,” Shelley added.