Tearful reunions as Western Australia ends long border closure

Australia’s largest state ends one of the world’s longest coronavirus-related border closures.

Australia’s largest state has reopened to fully vaccinated domestic and international travellers, ending one of the world’s longest coronavirus border closures.

Western Australia, which covers one-third of the nation’s land area, closed its borders to most international and interstate travellers in 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But those restrictions were lifted on Thursday, after 697 days, becoming the last Australian state to lift border curbs.

The move came more than a week after the Australian federal government began granting visas to vaccinated tourists and four months after Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, began its staged reopening of quarantine-free travel.

The airport in Perth, Western Australia’s capital, was the scene of emotional reunions as the first of 22 scheduled domestic flights and five international flights began arriving on Thursday.

“We expect about 5,000 domestic and international travellers to arrive on Thursday and tens of thousands of people in the coming weeks,” said Al Jazeera’s Sarah Clarke, reporting from Brisbane on Australia’s east coast.

“There have been emotional scenes at the airport. We’ve seen so many people arrive and reunite. It’s certainly the end of a very unusual chapter where we had one state cut off from the rest of the country for such a long period of time.”

In order to enter Western Australia, travellers will need to be fully vaccinated and complete a travel pass.

They will also have to undergo a rapid test within 12 hours of arrival and report any positive result to authorities, though the measure will be reviewed after two weeks.

Unvaccinated returning Australians will still be required to go through hotel quarantine.

Western Australia had successfully stopped the local spread of the coronavirus throughout the pandemic, by contact tracing and isolating carriers, until the highly contagious Omicron variant arrived this year.

The state now reports more than 1,000 new infections every day.

“Australia is now finally back together,” Qantas Airways Chief Executive Alan Joyce said. “This day has been a long time coming.”

On Wednesday, 61 deaths from COVID-19 were reported across Australia. None was reported that day in Western Australia, Tasmania or the Australian Capital Territory.

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