Australia Busts Out Toy Koalas, Welcomes Back Tourists

After a 2-year hiatus, fully vaccinated travelers are now welcome
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 21, 2022 8:41 AM CST
Australia Greets Tourists for First Time in 2 Years
Passengers are welcomed as they arrive at Sydney International Airport Monday.   (Dean Lewins/AAP Image via AP)

International tourists and business travelers began arriving in Australia with few restrictions on Monday, bringing together families in tearful reunions after separations of two years or longer forced by some of the most draconian pandemic measures of any democracy in the world, reports the AP. Australia closed its borders to tourists in March 2020 in a bid to reduce the local spread of COVID-19, but on Monday removed its final travel restrictions for fully vaccinated passengers. Travelers were greeted at Sydney’s airport by jubilant well-wishers waving toy koalas and favorite Australian foods including Tim Tams chocolate cookies and jars of Vegemite.

Danielle Vogl, who lives in Canberra, and her Florida partner Eric Lochner have been separated since October 2019 by the travel restrictions. “I actually woke him up to tell him, because I thought it was big enough news to do that,” Vogl tells the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Lochner was not eligible for an exemption from the travel ban because the couple weren’t married or living together. They're planning a reunion in April. Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said all travelers’ vaccination status would be checked before they arrived to avoid a repeat of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa debacle. Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said she expected tourist numbers would take two years to rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

(Read more Australia stories.)

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