BBC News Report: Australia will reopen its international border from November, giving long-awaited freedoms to vaccinated citizens and their relatives.
Since March 2020, Australia has had some of the world’s strictest border rules – even banning its own people from leaving the country.
The policy has been praised for helping to suppress Covid, but it has also controversially separated families.
“It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” PM Scott Morrison said.
People would be eligible to travel when their state’s vaccination rate hit 80%, Mr Morrison told a press briefing on Friday.
Travel would not immediately be open to foreigners, but the government said it was working “towards welcoming tourists back to our shores”.
“But I’ll believe the borders have reopened when I see it and hear the stories of stranded Aussies being able to get home uninhibited,” she told BBC News.
Ian Jasper, who lived for many years in Australia before returning to England, is hoping to travel to Perth, Australia, in December to see three of his children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Welcoming news of the border reopening in November, he told the BBC: “I’m 82 and not in the best of health – I’m getting a bit worried I might not make it.”
He said he hoped to be spend three months in Australia to celebrate Christmas and attend his granddaughter’s wedding in February.
Henry Aldridge is also excited to fly back to the UK for Christmas to see his parents and five siblings in London. His partner Shana, a nurse from Ireland who lives with him in Sydney, nearly broke down when they heard the news.
He said as the lockdowns were extended and the country recorded more and more cases, the travel ban started to feel “a bit absurd”.
“It seemed silly – you still have to quarantine to come home to a country that’s in lockdown,” he said.
At present, people can leave Australia – which has recorded more than 107,000 cases of Covid-19 and just over 1,300 deaths – only for exceptional reasons such as essential work or visiting a dying relative.
Entry is permitted for citizens and others with exemptions, but there are tight caps on arrival numbers. This has left tens of thousands stranded overseas.
Mr Morrison said Australia’s mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine – which costs each traveller A$3,000 (£1,600; $2,100) – would be replaced by seven days of home quarantine for vaccinated Australians or permanent residents.
Australian carrier Qantas responded by announcing it would restart its international flying a month earlier. It had already put flights to major overseas destinations on sale from 18 December.
Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are currently in lockdown due to outbreaks of the virus.
That has helped prompt a surge in the vaccine uptake in recent months.
New South Wales – which includes Sydney – is on track to be first state to cross the 80% threshold, in a few weeks. Victoria – containing Melbourne – is not far behind.
But states such as Queensland and Western Australia have threatened to keep their borders closed until vaccine rates are even higher.
These states have managed to maintain Covid rates at or near zero, after shutting their borders to states with infections.