Australia drops Covid vaccination travel rules – but masks on flights remain

·2 min read
Missing persons: Sydney on 21 February 2022, the day Australia reopened to international visitors (Simon Calder)
Missing persons: Sydney on 21 February 2022, the day Australia reopened to international visitors (Simon Calder)

Australia has reopened to foreign tourists after nearly two years of what was effectively a ban on international visitors. The first travellers allowed back in faced strict controls including a requirement for full vaccination and, initially, a pre-departure Covid test.

Just 19 weeks later almost all restrictions are being lifted as Australia struggles to lure back visitors.

The government in Canberra said: “People travelling to Australia will no longer have to complete a Digital Passenger Declaration (DPD) to declare their Covid-19 vaccination status.”

Clare O’Neil, the home affairs minister, said: “Removing these requirements will not only reduce delays in our airports but will encourage more visitors and skilled workers to choose Australia as a destination.”

Australia’s DPD has been widely criticised for its complexity. The online document is expected to replace the traditional incoming passenger card but not, said Ms O’Neil, until “it is much more user friendly”.

Face masks will continue on flights to and from Australia for all except under-12s and those with medical exemptions.

In addition, the national airline, Qantas, requires all adult passengers on international flights to be fully vaccinated.

The most recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show arrivals of short-term visitors in April 2022 at only one-third of the same month in 2019.

The leading nation in terms of visitors in April was New Zealand with 42,500, while the UK was second with 31,890.

While this was sharply down on the figure for April 2019, it was actually 10,000 more than British arrivals to Australia in the whole of 2021.

Meanwhile New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has been visiting nations including the UK to promote tourism. The Pacific nation was out-of-bounds until 13 April this year, with British visitors allowed in since 2 May.

Visitor figures for New Zealand for April 2022 show an 83 per cent collapse compared with the same month in 2019.