Fully vaccinated stranded Australians and their families will be the only international arrivals allowed under quarantine-free travel to NSW.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has thrown his support behind the NSW government’s shock decision to scrap isolation requirements for fully vaccinated arrivals into Sydney from November 1.
But, while Premier Dominic Perrottet raised the prospect of including tourists, Mr Morrison knocked that on the head.
“We are not opening up to everyone coming back to Australia at the moment,” he said on Friday.
Citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families will be the only people allowed to enter the country under the new arrangements.
The definition of immediate family will be expanded to include parents, rather than just partners and children.
Arrivals will need to test negative before and after boarding, as well as prove their vaccination status.
Both of Australia’s major airlines welcomed the NSW announcement. Qantas has brought forward the start of international flights to November 1 – promising five flights a week from Sydney to Los Angeles and London.
“In just a little over two weeks, Australians around the world can fly into Sydney and people from around Australia can leave on trips they’ve been waiting almost two years to take. We hope other states will do the same once they reach the 80 per cent target,” chief executive Alan Joyce said.
Virgin Australia said its international flights would return with Fiji services from December 16.
“It’s fantastic news for travellers, the aviation industry, and the thousands of businesses and communities in the state who rely on open borders and the economic injection that tourism provides,” a spokesperson said.
Mr Morrison said international students and tourists would not have to quarantine when they were allowed to return to Australia. But he refused to say when that would start.
The NSW move is a radical shift that outpaces national cabinet’s agreement. Under the reopening plan, an 80 per cent double-dose vaccination rate was supposed to trigger a gradual reopening of international travel with “safe countries” and “proportionate quarantine”.
The deal – based on Doherty Institute modelling – signalled reduced requirements for fully vaccinated travellers.
Quarantine-free travel was only part of the final “post-vaccination” phase, which seeks to manage coronavirus in the same way as other infectious diseases.
Mr Morrison said the NSW decision was consistent with the plan.
“It will progress steadily but at the same time carefully and I welcome this first step. I think it is a good step,” he said.
Shortly after Friday’s announcement, Mr Perrottet told Sydney radio that he had not consulted Mr Morrison ahead of time – despite international borders being the responsibility of the federal government.
“I’ve had numerous discussions with the Prime Minister over the course of this period about dispensing with hotel quarantine – they support this policy,” he said on Friday.
“They will need to implement it from a border perspective and we want tourists back into the state as quickly as possible.”
Mr Perrottet said he could not control other states’ quarantine requirements but urged overseas travellers to spend time in Sydney.
He conceded it meant people in NSW would be able to travel overseas before they could travel to some states.
“People in NSW will be flying to Bali before Broome… [but] we need to rejoin the world,” he said.
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley told reporters to take a “chill pill” after being asked about the NSW decision.
“Victoria will go about its business in the national context, understanding it’s the Commonwealth who control international borders, not the states,” he said.
Mr Foley also announced changes to Victoria’s borders. From October 19, fully-vaccinated people from NSW will be allowed to enter Victoria without quarantining – potentially opening a loophole for overseas arrivals to make the same trip.
Queensland will reassess its border restrictions because of the NSW move, with chief health officer Jeannette Young flagging a potential tightening of rules.
“There’s just been an enormous change this morning that I haven’t been able to get my head around,” she said on Friday.
“I need to go and work out what that change means – and it’s not just a change that will impact on NSW, opening the borders to NSW then leads to a flow-on to every other state.”
In South Australia, Premier Steven Marshall said he would not follow NSW.
“We look at the expert advice we’ve received. Certainly, we want to get to the 80 per cent double-vaccinated mark before we’re easing our state borders,” he said on Friday.
“We’ll look at international borders after that.”
SA is likely to reach that target at some stage in December.
NSW had 399 more local coronavirus infections on Friday, while case numbers in Victoria continued to soar with 2179 registered.
There were six deaths in Victoria and four in NSW.
Australia has fully vaccinated 65.4 per cent of its eligible population aged 16 and over, while more than 83.6 per cent have received their first dose.