Sydney readies to welcome overseas visitors
Published: Oct 20, 2021 05:38 PM
People have their meals at an outdoor restaurant in Sydney, Australia, on Oct. 18, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)

People have their meals at an outdoor restaurant in Sydney, Australia, on Oct. 18, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)

Sydney will scrap all quarantine requirements for travelers from next month, officials have said, an abrupt step toward reopening Australia's long-shuttered borders.

In a surprise announcement, Premier Dominic Perrottet of New South Wales said that from November 1 vaccinated travelers would be allowed to enter the state without quarantine of any kind.

"For double vaccinated people around the world, Sydney, New South Wales, is open for business," Perrottet said. 

"Hotel quarantine will be a thing of the past. This is a significant day for our state."

The decision was a head-snapping turnaround for a country that slammed shut its borders 19 months ago and introduced some of the world's ­toughest COVID-19 restrictions.

But Perrottet's suggestion that tourists and students could be weeks away from returning to Australia was promptly slapped down by the country's Prime Minister Scott Morrison - whose government controls borders, while quarantine rules are a state issue.

"All we are talking about now is Australian citizens, residents and their immediate families," Morrison said, insisting he would not open the borders to visitors just yet.

Since March 2020, travel to and from Australia has been virtually banned and anyone who gains permission to enter must fork out many thousands of dollars and agree to be locked in a hotel room for 14 days.

The rules meant tens of thousands of Australians were stuck overseas and tourism ground to a halt. Critics dubbed the country a "hermit state."

Perrottet - recently appointed as premier of Australia's most populous state when his predecessor resigned in a corruption scandal - has been quick to put his stamp on the COVID-19 response.

Regardless of mixed messages from state and national governments, airlines and the travel industry welcomed the news as a major step toward normalization.