Britons are today reuniting with family members in Australia for the first time in more than 700 days, with the country throwing open its borders to tourists once more.
After two years apart, family members were seen embracing for the first time as they emerged from the arrival gates at Sydney International Airport.
In true Australian-style, tourists were greeted by Surf and Rescue members handing out jars of Vegemite and a Kangaroo mascot giving high-fives.
In a more low-key affair at Melbourne airport, British tourist Sue Witton, who had not been able to visit Australia to see her son Simon since the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020, was among those who enjoyed emotional reunion.
‘Seven hundred and twenty-four days apart and it means the world to me,’ a tearful Ms Witton told reporters.
‘I don’t want to let him go, it’s just beautiful. Thank you for having me back. I’m just so grateful, so, so grateful.’
One girl, named Charlotte, wiped away tears as she reunited with her grandfather Bernie Edmonds after spending two years apart while living with her family in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
‘It’s been two years, I’ve been living in Albuquerque,’ she said. ‘It’s very dry there and very warm.’
An emotional Mr Edmonds added: ‘It’s all over now. It’s been hard, we’ve been Facetiming but that’s as close as we’ve been able to get. I think we’re over the hill now. It’s time to plod on and see what happens.’
It comes after Australia today lifted its strict border controls, which have seen entry banned to all but Australian citizens and permanent residents since March 20, 2020.
However restrictions have been gradually loosened in recent months and in November last year skilled migrants and students were also allowed to enter provided they were fully vaccinated.
Now, after 703 days of closing its borders off to international tourists, Australia has now lifted the restrictions. Western Australia, the country’s biggest state, will continue its tourist ban until March 3.
Some 56 flights from the UK, US, Japan, and Canada are scheduled to touch down today in Australia.
Only one direct flight, taking around 17 hours, is scheduled to leave Heathrow for Darwin, northern Australia, on Monday.
It means many Britons arriving in Australia today will have had long journeys, some of up to 40 hours and involving stop offs to countries including Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, to be reunited with their family.
British tourist Sue Witton, who had not been able to visit Australia to see her son Simon since the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020, was among those who enjoyed emotional reunion
‘Seven hundred and twenty-four days apart and it means the world to me,’ a tearful Ms Witton told reporters. ‘I don’t want to let him go, it’s just beautiful. Thank you for having me back. I’m just so grateful, so, so grateful.’
Charlotte (pictured, with grandfather Bernie Edmonds) wiped away tears as she reunited with her grandfather after spending two years living in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Kendall Sergeant (right) is welcomed home by her mum Anne as she arrived at Sydney International Airport on Monday
Shay has been living in New York in the United States and said she had come back just in time to attend two of her friend’s weddings.
Surf and Rescue members handed out jars of Vegemite as returned travellers made their way through the arrival gates on Monday
The Qantas mascot happily hands out a high-five to a flight attendant at Sydney International Airport on Monday
The first international flights have arrived in Australia as the country’s borders are reopened two years after they were closed because of the pandemic
Only one direct flight, taking around 17 hours, is scheduled to leave Heathrow for Australia on Monday. It means many Britons arriving in Australia today will have had long journeys, some of up to 40 hours and involving stop offs to countries including Dubai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, to be reunited with their family
Alongside British tourists people from Canada and the US also Melbourne resident Tom, 21, had spent the last two years living in Los Angeles and felt overwhelmed to step foot in his home country.
‘I haven’t been home since 2020, I love hearing the accents,’ he said. ‘It’s taken awhile for the borders to open up and i wanted to start uni here.
‘My opinion on the country has changed a little bit. The Australianness went away a little bit, but I’m just glad to be back.’
Shay wiped away tears of joy after returning from New York and living in the city for the past three years.
‘I had two weddings to come back for and once borders opened I said I’m coming,’ she said.
‘I got delayed in Miami for two hours. It hasn’t been an easy journey but I’m so glad I’m home.’
Canadian couple Doug and Joanne made the trip down under to visit their daughter and three-year-old granddaughter.
‘We wanted to get on the first flight just to see these two,’ Doug said. ‘It’s been awful, it’s been incredibly terrible.
‘This is our three-year-old, we haven’t seen her since she was born,’ he said, pointing to his granddaughter.
His wife Joanne added: ‘It’s been really difficult. We haven’t seen her since she was one month old.
‘In Ontario we had it much worse. We were locked down on and off, it was really bad so we didn’t want that to happen.’
A police officer poses with two drag queens at the arrivals gate with Mardi Gras just around the corner
An over-the-moon Charlotte holds Wattle and balloons as she looks at her grandfather face-to-face for the first time in two years on Monday
Returned travellers were handed wattle branches and Kangaroo toys on Monday morning
Canadians Joanne, Doug and Megan with the family’s three year old daughter at Sydney International Airport on Monday
Qantas crew and Surf and Rescue members welcome home the passengers as they emerged through the arrival gates at Sydney International Airport on Monday
Toy koalas and kangaroos were offered to arrivals as they emerged from the gates on Monday
Qantas mascot was among the excited crowd waiting for the travellers to walk through the arrivals gate
Sam (pictured) was the first tourist to walk through the arrival gates at Sydney International Airport on Monday
Japanese mother Kimmy and her five-year-old daughter Bibby plan to travel around the country for a family holiday.
‘This is our first time in Australia,’ Kimmy said. ‘We’re here for a holiday, staying with our friends. It’s very exciting. This is Bibby’s first time on a plane.’
Thousands of international visitors will land in the country over the next 24 hours, marking the first time tourists have been welcomed since the federal government locked the borders on March 20, 2020.
Scenes appeared tepid at Brisbane International Airport with the first of the overseas arrivals yet to walk out.
Today Show host Jessica Millward became overly excited mistaking a cleaner for a returned passenger.
‘I got excited a moment ago, but it was just the cleaner,’ she said. ‘We are waiting for the fanfare they are seeing in Sydney.’
Experts warned the international arrivals could leave the nation exposed to a surge of influenza cases and urged Australians to take up the flu jab as soon as possible.
Some 1.23 million people have applied and already been granted Australian visas as the country reopens to vaccinated travellers as part of the final stage of the nation’s Covid response plan.
Japanese mother Kimmy and daughter Bibby arrive in Australia for holidays
DJ Sasha Moon set up a booth to play remixes of Australian classics as the first of the arrivals landed at Sydney International Airport
A keen arrival pushes a trolley stacked with luggage bags through the terminal on Monday
An arrival holding a solitary Wattle branch waves to the excited crowd waiting outside the gates
Charlotte and Bernie embrace for the first time in two years after the border closure kept the pair separated
Qantas pilots were the heroes of the day as they flew overseas Australians back to their home country
Flight attendants show off a pair of Koala toys and miniature Vegemite jars after landing in Sydney
So far, New South Wales appears to be the state of choice for the majority of inbound travellers, with 26 of the first round of daily flights bound for Sydney.
The first will arrive at 6.30am at the Harbour City’s Kingsford Smith Airport from Los Angeles.
‘This is my first time going to visit my best friend, Ally, hey, I’m so excited I can’t wait to see her daily life,’ an American told 9News from LAX Airport on Sunday night.
‘I actually played basketball here for Geelong super cats and I’ve been trying to get back for the last couple of years. Unfortunately the borders closed,’ another American traveller explained.
Charlotte and Bernie Edmonds face-to-face after spending two years apart living in two different countries
Thousands of inbound travellers (pictured at Sydney Airport in November) are on their way to Australia as the nation reopens its international borders to foreign visitors for the first time in almost two years
The border reopening will be met with celebration for many Aussies who will be able to reunite with friends and loved ones who are not citizens or permanent residents (pictured, a flight arriving into Sydney Airport)
But with the flu largely dormant in Australia during the pandemic due to heightened health measures, experts fear the population will be particularly vulnerable to the virus – compounded by low flu shot rates over the past year.
There are concerns a rise in influenza cases could add additional pressure on the nation’s Covid-strained hospital system.
In NSW in 2019 there were 120,000 flu cases, causing 334 deaths, but since the pandemic hit, there were only 21,266 cases of influenza in 2020 across the whole of Australia.
In 2021, there were less than 600 cases.
‘A combination of not being vaccinated and of not being exposed means that your level of immunity does fall. The virus naturally mutates,’ University of Sydney immunisation expert Professor Robert Booy told the Herald Sun.
‘My prediction, with the borders opening… in two weeks, is that flu will be jumping on a plane coming our way.’
There are 56 international flights scheduled to touch down across Australia on February 21 (pictured, a Qantas flight in Sydney)
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said the upcoming flu season is likely to be much worse than the country has seen in recent years, assisted by eased public health restrictions across the country.
University Queensland’s Associate Professor Paul Griffin said Australia ‘has one of the most susceptible populations to flu at the moment that we’ve had for some time and when it’s introduced, it could certainly have a significant impact’.
Flu shots will become available from mid-March and can be received at the same time as a Covid booster shot.
Professor Griffin and Professor Booy urged Aussies to roll up their sleeves for both shots to ensure the nation is armed against both viruses heading into winter.
There are around 100,000 flu cases each year in Australia on average, with bad seasons resulting in around 1000 deaths.
Between 2018 and 2019, tourism generated more than $60billion for the Australian economy and 660,000 people were employed in the tourism sector (pictured, an arrival at Sydney Airport)
While a rise in both viruses could further stress the country’s hospitals, the federal government expects the worst of Australia’s Covid outbreak is over.
Announcing the border reopening earlier this month, Scott Morrison said international arrivals no longer pose a risk due to the dominance of the Omicron variant Down Under.
However, foreign visitors still need to prove they are Covid-free before entering the country.
Double-jabbed travellers entering most Australian states need a negative PCR test three days before their flight – or a rapid test 24 hours before departure – to be exempt from any quarantine.
Western Australia, which is still pursuing a Covid-zero strategy, is expected to keep arrival caps in place and 14-day quarantine rules which will prevent large numbers of international tourists entering the state from overseas.
Visa holders who are not vaccinated will need a travel exemption to enter the country and will be subject to state and territory quarantine requirements on arrival.
Between 2018 and 2019, tourism generated more than $60billion for the Australian economy and 660,000 people were employed in the tourism sector.
- Have you been reunited with your family in Australia since the tourist travel ban was lifted? Or are you planning to fly out to Australia to see your loved ones? Contact me: email@example.com