Australia set to reopen international borders after 18 months

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Australia is poised to reopen its international borders from November to again allow its citizens to come and go without seeking permission as states close in on key coronavirus vaccination targets.

The federal government will on Friday begin to issue international COVID-19 vaccination certificates and remains also in talks with other countries to work out which vaccines will be recognised in international travel bubble arrangements.

International borders are set to be reopened for Australians.Credit:James Brickwood

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to announce a new threshold the states will need to meet before they can agree to reopen international travel on Friday.

The nation’s borders were dramatically shut on March 20 last year to all non-citizens and nonresidents, with Australian citizens and permanent residents needing to seek a government-issued exemption to travel, with returned travellers forced into hotel quarantine for 14 days on arrival at a cost of more than $3000.

The international border ban is in place until December 17 but government sources familiar with the discussions told this masthead that will now be lifted a month earlier than previously planned, following a meeting of the national security committee of cabinet on Wednesday.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said NSW was most likely to hit the 80 per cent vaccine target before others and could become the “test-bed” for allowing Australians to leave the country.

“There will be a cautious and staged approach in terms of what’s undertaken,” Senator Birmingham told Sky News.

A new iPhone application allowing border officials to read QR code vaccination certificates appeared on the Apple store this week, giving Australian officials the ability to scan international vaccination certificates once they become available within days.

About 210,679 Australians have been granted approval to fly overseas in that time, according to Home Affairs department data, with 122,131 applications rejected.

Major airlines have opened international bookings for December but have warned several issues will need to be sorted, including recognition of vaccines not recognised by Australian health authorities, hotel quarantine caps for un-vaccinated travellers and negative pre-departure testing.

NSW will trial a seven-day home quarantine system to open its borders to travellers from abroad, having double-dosed 64 per cent of its population and 87 per cent having at least one shot.
Victoria, which has double-dosed almost 50 per cent, will likely follow.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan earlier this month suggested the international border restriction for outbound travellers would be initially removed for certain destinations – such as New Zealand, the Pacific and Singapore – once the national vaccination rate hits 80 per cent.

A Digital Passenger Declaration – which will apply to all travellers entering the country after international IT firm Accenture was awarded the tender to roll out the technology – is currently only in the testing phase.

Australians will have to download their international vaccination certificate from their MyGov accounts, a secure online portal that stores Australians’ personal information. It will be different from the domestic vaccine certificate that is already available on MyGov.

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