Australia reopens border after lengthy lockdowns
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia eased travel restrictions Monday, opening its border for the first time in 20 months – and betting that vaccination rates are now high enough to mitigate the danger of allowing international visitors again.
Initially only Australian permanent residents and citizens will be free to enter the country. Fully vaccinated foreigners traveling on skilled worker and student visas will be given priority over international tourists. But the government expects Australia will welcome international tourists back to some degree before the year ends.
The new freedoms also mean that fully vaccinated Australian permanent residents and citizens can leave the country for any reason without asking the government for an exemption from a travel ban that has trapped most at home since March 25, 2020.
Even though Australians are now free to travel overseas, four Australian states and a territory are still maintaining pandemic restrictions on crossing state lines.
With a population of about 25.8 million, Australia has recorded just under 1,600 deaths attributed to the coronavirus; according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it was the 38th leading cause of death in 2020 (898 deaths). But for months, Australia has been under strict lockdowns because the government has a zero-tolerance policy and has been levying fines as high as $3,700 against citizens for breaking certain rules.
At one point, helicopters reportedly were patrolling the skies to find violators – and police have been accused of using harsh measures against protestors. Now, Aussies in some areas of the country must show a vaccine passport to enter public venues – and mask-wearing is still being enforced.
Robert Knight is a conservative activist and a columnist for The Washington Times and American Family News. He tells AFN that it's unsettling to him that Australians have been so willing to have their liberties stripped away in the name of public health.
"Australia is surprising to me because they have a fierce independence streak," he offers. "After all, they were founded as a penal colony for Great Britain in the 19th century.
"But they have long cultivated the idea of sort of an American ethos of riding the waves and going out in the outback and being fearless – and yet their government has locked them down completely and told them they can't even leave their homes. It's totalitarian."
Knight says it's obvious to him that the people in the U.S. who are pushing the levers of power would like similar control.
"They just keep enforcing more mandates [here in the U.S.]," he laments. "They're talking about not being able to shop or go out to eat or do anything if you don't have a vaccine passport. This has to be stopped. Not only is it not good health policy, but it's really all about control."
The five leading causes of death in Australia last year were (in order): heart diseases, dementia (Alzheimer's), cerebrovascular diseases (e.g., stroke), lung cancer, and chronic lower respiratory diseases.