Australian PM Morrison eyes accelerating international travel restart

Sydney and the rest of New South Wales are set to reopen many businesses to fully vaccinated residents from Oct 11, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that he is in talks with the New South Wales state government in a bid to accelerate a plan to open international travel.

"The New South Wales government is looking at ways to fast track home quarantine in November and if that happens, we will be able to move to facilitate the opening up of the international border into New South Wales sooner," Mr Morrison said in a video posted on Facebook on Sunday (Oct 10).

"That would mean home quarantine for vaccinated Australians wishing to return home via Sydney, and giving the option for international travel for vaccinated Australians to leave and return."

While Mr Morrison did not give a timeline in the video for when the international border could be reopened, reported that it understands the date being looked at is Nov 1.

Earlier this month, Mr Morrison announced that bans on international travel will be lifted in November, a month ahead of schedule.

Sydney is set to reopen after months in lockdown, officials said on Sunday, with businesses reading themselves to welcome fully vaccinated residents from Monday.

New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, reported 477 new coronavirus cases and six deaths on Sunday, in an outbreak that has kept five million people in state capital Sydney in a lockdown for 100 days.

But as the state has met the threshold of 70 per cent of its people fully vaccinated, New South Wales was ready to ease some restrictions and reopen many businesses, said state Premier Dominic Perrottet.

"It's a big day for our state, and to everyone across the New South Wales: you've earned it," Mr Perrottet said. "It's been a hundred days of blood, sweat, no beers, but we've got it back in action tomorrow."

When asked what would be the first thing he does on Monday, Mr Perrottet said: "I am going to get a haircut."

Local media reported that hair and beauty salons have been fully booked for weeks to come.

"We have stretched their days and have opened up extra times in their diaries so that we can book our clients in as soon as we possibly can," Mr Joseph Hkeik, who runs several All Saints skin clinics in Sydney told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Many social distancing restrictions, however, and limits on public gathering will remain for weeks, Mr Perrottet said.

Neighbouring Victoria, its capital Melbourne in lockdown since early August, reported 1,890 new cases and five deaths on Sunday. The state is expected to reopen late this month, once 70 per cent of its residents are fully inoculated.

The Melbourne Cup, Australia's most famous horse race, will go ahead on Nov 2 with crowds of up to 10,000 people, the state government said.

"We're going to normalise this virus," said Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews. "We're going to open up and we're going to be back doing what we do best."

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Nearly 62 per cent of all Australians 16 and older have received two doses of vaccine. Once 80 per cent of eligible Australians are fully vaccinated, the country will start gradually reopening its international borders, which have been closed since March last year.

Australia's Covid-19 cases remain, however, far lower than many comparable countries, with just more than 127,500 infections and 1,432 deaths in a country of just under 26 million.

Neighbouring New Zealand, which was largely virus-free until a Delta outbreak in mid-August, reported 60 new local cases, up from 34 on Saturday.

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