Greek-Australians can finally travel back to their homeland for the first time in almost 600 days as the Australian government on Monday lifted the ban on overseas travel imposed to limit the spread of Covid-19.
After more than 18 months, Australia is reconnecting with the world as vaccination rates increase. For thousands of Greek-Australians, a normal summer would see them heading to the islands and villages of their heritage. But for summer 2021, Greece was off limits for most.
Since March of 2020, Australia has had some of the world’s strictest border rules – even banning its own people from leaving the country. Until Monday, people could leave Australia only for exceptional reasons such as essential work or visiting a dying relative.
The policy has been praised for helping to suppress Covid, but it has also controversially separated families.
Australians can now travel freely overseas without needing official permission. Returning travelers flying home into the states of New South Wales and Victoria no longer face mandatory hotel quarantine.
They must, however, be double vaccinated, and only Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families can return home at this stage. Australia will reopen quarantine-free entry to fully vaccinated Singaporeans from Nov. 21, but it is unclear when other foreign nationals, who have been mostly banned since March 2020, will be permitted to enter.
Thousands of Australians stranded overseas can now travel
Thousands of Australians have been stranded overseas during the pandemic by some of the world’s toughest border controls. Authorities placed limits on the number of travelers allowed back because of constraints on the quarantine system.
Melbourne Airport has also been preparing for the resumption of large-scale passenger numbers. Chief executive Lyell Strambi said pandemic border closures have been hard on staff.
“We have not really stopped flying, so we have been able to keep things working and making sure that everything is in great shape,” Strambi said.
“But the stop-start nature of the whole episode we have been through has been really tough. In particular for the employees of the airport. We would normally have 20,000 people working at the airport. I think a few times there we were down to as low as 500 people. So, it has been really hard on those individuals in particular,” he said according to the Voice of America.
Internal border controls remain in parts of Australia, however. Residents in Sydney and Melbourne, for example, can now fly freely to Paris, France — but not to Perth in Western Australia.
Australia has diagnosed 170,000 coronavirus cases during the pandemic, and 1,700 people have died with it. More than 77% of eligible Australians have been fully vaccinated.