Australia Winds Back Omicron Border Restrictions

Melbourne Airport international arrivals at T2
Melbourne Airport’s international terminal is returning to life after a quiet few weeks. Photo: Matt Graham.

NSW and Victoria are winding back the quarantine requirements for international arrivals introduced several weeks ago due to heightened concerns about the Omicron coronavirus variant. The Australian government has also repealed its ban on international travel from nine African countries and downgraded its “Do not travel warning” for these destinations.

It comes as Virgin Australia and numerous overseas airlines restart international flights to and from Australia.

NSW, VIC remove hotel quarantine for southern African arrivals

Last week, both NSW and Victoria removed the requirement for Australians returning from nine African nations to enter 14 days of hotel quarantine. These countries were Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Anyone arriving in Australia who has been in these countries during the previous fortnight is now treated the same as any other international arrival.

NSW, VIC remove 3-day isolation requirement for international arrivals

From the morning of Tuesday 21 December 2021, anyone arriving in NSW or Victoria from overseas will also no longer need to self-isolate for 3 days.

People returning from overseas to NSW or Victoria who are fully vaccinated will still need to get a COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours before flying to Australia, within 24 hours after arrival and another follow-up test towards the end of the first week after arrival. In NSW, the follow-up test needs to be completed on day 6 after arrival and in Victoria it’s 5-7 days after arrival. (The day of arrival into Australia is counted as “day 0”.)

The ACT government has not yet removed its 3-day self-isolation requirement for overseas arrivals.

Most states and territories are now accepting an uncapped number of eligible international arrivals who are fully vaccinated, albeit with home quarantine still required in some states such as Queensland and South Australia. The outlier is Western Australia, which is about to halve its cap on international arrivals to just 256 people per week. All arrivals into WA must still complete and pay for 14 days of supervised hotel quarantine.

Australian government repeals southern Africa travel ban

On 15 December 2021, the Australian government also ended its official ban on travel from the 9 southern African countries. This travel ban had meant no direct flights from these countries were allowed into Australia and only Australian citizens (not permanent residents, family members, etc.) who had been in these countries during the previous fortnight were allowed to enter the country (via indirect flights).

Recognising that the COVID-19 Omicron variant has now been reported in at least 77 countries and is already circulating within Australia anyway, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said that banning travel from nine specific countries was no longer a proportionate or effective measure.

“In line with other countries including the United Kingdom, the border measures under the Biosecurity Act 2015 restricting travellers who have been in the 8 (sic) Southern African countries from entering Australia has now ceased. Given the global spread of Omicron, international border bans are no longer a proportionate or effective means to contain the spread of Omicron. At this stage there are no direct flights from Southern Africa to Australia and only Australian citizens, permanent residents, immediate family members, parents and eligible visa holders are able to enter Australia,” Professor Kelly said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has also downgraded its travel advice for the nine countries including South Africa from “Do not travel” to “Reconsider your need to travel”. This is good news for Australians travelling to these countries as it opens up more Australian COVID-19 travel insurance options.

On 15 December, the federal government also resumed allowing eligible visa holders as well as Japanese and Korean citizens into the country. This change had been planned for 1 December but was delayed by a fortnight due to Omicron concerns.

International flights ramp up

Last Thursday, Virgin Australia operated its first commercial international flight in almost two years with the relaunch of flights from Sydney to Nadi, Fiji.

Passenger on board Virgin Australia's inaugural SYD-NAN service last Thursday
Passenger on board Virgin Australia’s inaugural SYD-NAN service last Thursday. Photo: Virgin Australia.

Virgin pulled out all the stops to welcome its passengers back to international flying with a live concert from Paulini and freebies at the boarding gate. To mark the occasion, the airline’s CEO Jayne Hrdlicka personally welcomed everyone on board and gifted every passenger a free Economy Class flight to anywhere on the Virgin Australia network.

Jayne Hrdlicka at Virgin's Sydney-Nadi relaunch event.
Jayne Hrdlicka cuts the ribbon at Virgin’s Sydney-Nadi relaunch event. Photo: Virgin Australia.

Air Canada and Hawaiian Airlines have also just resumed regular flights to Sydney. And over the past few days, Qantas and Jetstar have resumed flights on more international routes including Sydney-Nadi, Sydney-Vancouver and Melbourne-Los Angeles.

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Predictions of when international flights may resume/bans lifted

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]