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NSW open to travel, welcomes Aussies home

NSW COVID-19 cases
Planes flew into Sydney on Monday nearly 600 days after Australia closed its international borders. Photo: AAP
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Returning Australians have been reunited with family and friends in emotional scenes at Sydney Airport as NSW opens up to international and regional travel.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet hailed it “a very important milestone” in learning to live with coronavirus after the state exited lockdown three weeks ago.

“It’s the start of a new journey as we open up and we won’t go backwards,” he told reporters in Dubbo in the state’s west on Monday.

“We’ll start to rejoin the world.”

Nearly 600 days after the nation closed its international borders, hundreds of returning Australians landed in Sydney to be greeted with tears, hugs and Tim Tams from loved ones.

Qantas flight QF12 from Los Angeles touched down at 6am, taking advantage of rule changes for incoming passengers who are fully vaccinated.

“It is a great day for our state,” Mr Perrottet said.

One man told reporters coming home was “a big deal” after being locked out for so long.

“We’re a bit overwhelmed and we just can’t wait to see our families. It will be amazing,” he said.

One woman said she was returning to see her father in hospital.

“I haven’t been able to see him for two years and they wouldn’t let me come in any earlier than today — so I got the first flight back,” she said.

Initially, flights are limited to Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families and parents.

Fully vaccinated passengers don’t have to quarantine in a hotel or at home, paving the way for more Australians stranded overseas to return for Christmas.

Qantas is putting on flights between Sydney and London and Los Angeles, with flights to other destinations due to come online in the coming weeks.

“We are back in the air earlier than anticipated thanks to the millions of people who turned out in droves to get vaccinated,” CEO Alan Joyce said.

Qantas flight QF1 from Sydney to London will be one of the first to depart at 6.30pm carrying outbound vaccinated Australians.

Meanwhile, the daily tally of COVID-19 cases continues to decline.

There were 135 new local cases — 42 fewer than the previous day — and four deaths recorded in the 24-hours to 8pm on Sunday.

Some 93.6 per cent of people aged 16 and older have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 87.7 per cent of adults are fully jabbed.

The fully vaccinated can now travel freely between Greater Sydney and the regions, paving the way for separated families to reunite for the first time in months.

It also marks the return of regional tourism, with the government predicting business confidence will soar as pent up demand sees travellers booking holidays and hitting the road.

Mr Perrottet celebrated the milestone — which was delayed by two weeks — by travelling to Dubbo with Deputy Premier Paul Toole, who dismissed concerns about lower vaccination rates in the regions.

More than 80 per cent of regional local government areas are now double vaccinated, compared to 36 per cent two weeks ago, Mr Toole noted.

Mr Perrottet urged people to consider travelling to the NSW regions — even after other states open their borders.

“My message today is … don’t go interstate – come out to regional NSW and enjoy the best the state has to offer,” the premier said.

State cabinet will meet this week to consider if the December 1 deadline for freedoms to be extended to the unvaccinated can be brought forward.

Monday also sees the state’s vaccine booster program open to adults who received their second jab six months ago or longer.