SYDNEY: Australia will fully reopen its borders to all vaccinated visa holders from Feb 21, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday (Feb 7), after nearly two years since he shut it to non-citizens to mitigate the threat of the new coronavirus.
"If you're double vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back to Australia," Morrison said during a media briefing.
The relaxation of border rules will be a boost for airlines, hotels and other tourism businesses - the sectors worst affected by lockdowns and other tough curbs.
The news sent shares of travel and airline stocks surging, with Qantas up more than 5 per cent and travel operator Flight Centre rising more than 7 per cent in afternoon trade.
Strict border controls and snap lockdowns had helped Australia to keep its coronavirus numbers far lower than many comparable countries, but cases have hit record highs in recent weeks fuelled by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
The past week has seen a slowdown in daily infections and hospital cases, with Australia reporting just over 23,000 new infections on Monday, the lowest tally for 2022 and far away from a peak of 150,000 hit around a month ago.
Australia's borders slammed shut in March 2020 to protect the island continent against a surging pandemic.
For most of the time since then, Australians have been barred from leaving and only a handful of visitors have been granted exemptions to enter. The rules have split families, hammered the country's large tourist industry and prompted sometimes acrimonious debates about Australia's status as a modern, open and outward-looking nation.
Australia has been pursuing a staggered border reopening since late last year allowing skilled migrants, international students and backpackers to enter the country.
The latest decision will see almost all remaining caps lifted.
It comes after the country's long-standing "COVID-zero" policy was abandoned and the once stellar track-and-trace system collapsed under a wave of Omicron cases.
Around 2.4 million cases have been recorded since the first Omicron case was detected in Australia in November. Until then, Australia had counted around 200,000 cases. Total deaths stand at 4,248 since the pandemic began.