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Australia’s first long-haul travellers in nearly two years were greeted with pumping music from a DJ, dozens of paid greeters handing out jars of Vegemite and toy marsupials that were actually made here.
Bleary-eyed tourists were stunned by the reception that awaited them as they landed at Sydney Airport’s Gate A to a chorus of cheers and remixed Aussie bangers on Monday morning.
Shock swept over the faces of the hundreds of emotional passengers who walked out from customs, ending the country’s 704-day lockout from the rest of the world.
The occasion was lost on the majority those arriving, with two Canadian grandparents sharing their confusion with the grandiose welcome.
‘We weren’t expecting to walk into this. We thought there was a celebrity ahead of us but then we realised we are the celebrities,’ Ontario resident Joanne said after landing to be reunited with her daughter and granddaughter for the first time in two years.
Qantas crew and Surf and Rescue members welcome home the passengers as they emerged through the arrival gates at Sydney International Airport on Monday
Sam, the first tourist to hit Australia in 704 days, couldn’t contain his shock after touching down in Sydney on Monday morning
Toy koalas and kangaroos that were made in Australia were offered to arrivals as they emerged from the gates on Monday
The Qantas mascot happily hands out a high-five to a flight attendant at Sydney International Airport on Monday
Sam (pictured) was the first tourist to walk through the arrival gates at Sydney International Airport on Monday, visibly shocked by the attention
Travellers were barely a few steps onto Australian soil before they were mobbed by paid greeters in t-shirts with slogans welcoming the new arrivals, as well as volunteer surf life savers.
They handed native flowers, toy kangaroos and koalas that were made in Australia, and even jars of Vegemite and packets of Tim Tams to tourists lugging trolleys of bags. Many had to drop their belongings to accept the gifts.
Meanwhile, remixes of Land Down Under, Great Southern Land and You’re The Voice pounded out from DJ Sasha Moon, raising further eyebrows.
Passengers had to talk or fight their way through media scrums, mobbed by networks and outlets screaming for their opinions on lockdowns, restrictions and how long it’s been between appearances.
Drag queens and a mascot kangaroo offered the final hurdle between the arrivals lounge and freedom.
A quick rapid antigen test would see tourists free to travel the Harbour City, with another unwanted surprise awaiting them.
Major train lines across the city have been suspended on Monday due to union-led strikes, signalling traffic chaos throughout Sydney as buses replaced carriages.
Surf and Rescue members handed out jars of Vegemite as returned travellers made their way through the arrival gates on Monday
A man is handed a plush koala after arriving in Sydney on Monday
DJ Sasha Moon set up a booth to play remixes of Australian classics as the first of the arrivals landed at Sydney International Airport
A police officer poses with two drag queens at the arrivals gate with Mardi Gras just around the corner
Flight attendants show off a pair of Koala toys and miniature Vegemite jars after landing in Sydney
Canadians Joanne, Doug and Megan with the family’s three year old daughter at Sydney International Airport on Monday after admitting they were shocked by the welcome
Newcastle girl Charlotte wiped away tears as she reunited with her grandfather Bernie Edmonds after spending two years apart while living with her family in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
‘It’s been two years, I’ve been living in Albuquerque,’ she said. ‘It’s very dry there and very warm.’
An emotional Mr Edmonds added: ‘It’s all over now. It’s been hard, we’ve been Facetiming but that’s as close as we’ve been able to get.
‘I think we’re over the hill now. It’s time to plod on and see what happens.’
Newcastle girl Charlotte (pictured, with grandfather Bernie Edmonds) wiped away tears as she reunited with her grandfather after spending two years living in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Kendall Sergeant (right) is welcomed home by her mum Anne as she arrived at Sydney International Airport on Monday
Shay has been living in New York in the United States and said she had come back just in time to attend two of her friend’s weddings.
Melbourne resident Tom, 21, had spent the last two years living in Los Angeles and felt overwhelmed to step foot in his home country.
‘I haven’t been home since 2020, I love hearing the accents,’ he said. ‘It’s taken awhile for the borders to open up and i wanted to start uni here.
‘My opinion on the country has changed a little bit. The Australianness went away a little bit, but I’m just glad to be back.’
Shay wiped away tears of joy after returning from New York and living in the city for the past three years.
‘I had two weddings to come back for and once borders opened I said I’m coming,’ she said.
‘I got delayed in Miami for two hours. It hasn’t been an easy journey but I’m so glad I’m home.’
Canadian couple Doug and Joanne made the trip down under to visit their daughter and three-year-old granddaughter.
‘We wanted to get on the first flight just to see these two,’ Doug said. ‘It’s been awful, it’s been incredibly terrible.
‘This is our three-year-old, we haven’t seen her since she was born,’ he said, pointing to his granddaughter.
His wife Joanne added: ‘It’s been really difficult. We haven’t seen her since she was one month old.
‘In Ontario we had it much worse. We were locked down on and off, it was really bad so we didn’t want that to happen.’
An over-the-moon Charlotte holds Wattle and balloons as she looks at her grandfather face-to-face for the first time in two years on Monday
Returned travellers were handed wattle branches and Kangaroo toys on Monday morning
Qantas mascot was among the excited crowd waiting for the travellers to walk through the arrivals gate
Japanese mother Kimmy and her five-year-old daughter Bibby plan to travel around the country for a family holiday.
‘This is our first time in Australia,’ Kimmy said. ‘We’re here for a holiday, staying with our friends. It’s very exciting. This is Bibby’s first time on a plane.’
Thousands of international visitors will land in the country over the next 24 hours, marking the first time tourists have been welcomed since the federal government locked the borders on March 20, 2020.
Some 56 flights from the UK, US, Japan, and Canada are scheduled to touch down today.
Scenes appeared tepid at Brisbane International Airport with the first of the overseas arrivals yet to walk out.
Today Show host Jessica Millward became overly excited mistaking a cleaner for a returned passenger.
‘I got excited a moment ago, but it was just the cleaner,’ she said. ‘We are waiting for the fanfare they are seeing in Sydney.’
Japanese mother Kimmy and daughter Bibby arrive in Australia for holidays
Charlotte holds up a Tim Tam while cradling Wattle and a Kangaroo toy in her other arm
A keen arrival pushes a trolley stacked with luggage bags through the terminal on Monday
An arrival holding a solitary Wattle branch waves to the excited crowd waiting outside the gates
Charlotte and Bernie embrace for the first time in two years after the border closure kept the pair separated
Qantas pilots were the heroes of the day as they flew overseas Australians back to their home country
Experts warned the international arrivals could leave the nation exposed to a surge of influenza cases and urged Australians to take up the flu jab as soon as possible.
Some 1.23 million people have applied and already been granted Australian visas as the country reopens to vaccinated travellers as part of the final stage of the nation’s Covid response plan.
So far, NSW appears to be the state of choice for the majority of inbound travellers, with 26 of the first round of daily flights bound for Sydney.
The first will arrive at 6.30am at the Harbour City’s Kingsford Smith Airport from Los Angeles.
‘This is my first time going to visit my best friend, Ally, hey, I’m so excited I can’t wait to see her daily life,’ an American told 9News from LAX Airport on Sunday night.
‘I actually played basketball here for Geelong super cats and I’ve been trying to get back for the last couple of years. Unfortunately the borders closed,’ another American traveller explained.
Charlotte and Bernie Edmonds face-to-face after spending two years apart living in two different countries
The first international flights have arrived in Australia as the country’s borders are reopened two years after they were closed because of the pandemic
Thousands of inbound travellers (pictured at Sydney Airport in November) are on their way to Australia as the nation reopens its international borders to foreign visitors for the first time in almost two years
The border reopening will be met with celebration for many Aussies who will be able to reunite with friends and loved ones who are not citizens or permanent residents (pictured, a flight arriving into Sydney Airport)
WHO CAN COME TO AUSTRALIA?
After the international border was closed for 23 months, tourists are now finally welcome to come to Australia.
Arrivals who are fully-vaccinated will not need a travel exemption and will not be made to quarantine.
You are also required to complete an Australia Travel Declaration at least 72 hours before departure. The ATD includes a declaration regarding your vaccination status and you will be asked to upload your vaccination certificate.
Unvaccinated visa holders will still need a valid travel exemption to enter Australia.
Inbound passengers must provide a negative accepted COVID-19 test result. These tests can be either:
A nucleic acid amplification (NAA) test, such as: polymerase chain reaction (PCR, or RT-PCR) test, transcription mediated amplification or a loop-mediated isothermal amplification.
A rapid antigen test (RAT) (also described in some countries as a lateral flow antigen detection test or similar). This must not be confused with a lateral flow antibody detection test. For the purposes of pre-departure testing it must be an antigen test.
Serology tests are not accepted.
The NAA test must be done within 3 days before the day of the flight’s scheduled departure.
The RAT must be done within 24 hours of the flight’s scheduled departure time.
Source: Australian Federal Department of Health
But with the flu largely dormant in Australia during the pandemic due to heightened health measures, experts fear the population will be particularly vulnerable to the virus – compounded by low flu shot rates over the past year.
There are concerns a rise in influenza cases could add additional pressure on the nation’s Covid-strained hospital system.
In NSW in 2019 there were 120,000 flu cases, causing 334 deaths, but since the pandemic hit, there were only 21,266 cases of influenza in 2020 across the whole of Australia.
In 2021, there were less than 600 cases.
‘A combination of not being vaccinated and of not being exposed means that your level of immunity does fall. The virus naturally mutates,’ University of Sydney immunisation expert Professor Robert Booy told the Herald Sun.
‘My prediction, with the borders opening… in two weeks, is that flu will be jumping on a plane coming our way.’
There are 56 international flights scheduled to touch down across Australia on February 21 (pictured, a Qantas flight in Sydney)
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said the upcoming flu season is likely to be much worse than the country has seen in recent years, assisted by eased public health restrictions across the country.
University Queensland’s Associate Professor Paul Griffin said Australia ‘has one of the most susceptible populations to flu at the moment that we’ve had for some time and when it’s introduced, it could certainly have a significant impact’.
Flu shots will become available from mid-March and can be received at the same time as a Covid booster shot.
Professor Griffin and Professor Booy urged Aussies to roll up their sleeves for both shots to ensure the nation is armed against both viruses heading into winter.
There are around 100,000 flu cases each year in Australia on average, with bad seasons resulting in around 1000 deaths.
Between 2018 and 2019, tourism generated more than $60billion for the Australian economy and 660,000 people were employed in the tourism sector (pictured, an arrival at Sydney Airport)
While a rise in both viruses could further stress the country’s hospitals, the federal government expects the worst of Australia’s Covid outbreak is over.
Announcing the border reopening earlier this month, Scott Morrison said international arrivals no longer pose a risk due to the dominance of the Omicron variant Down Under.
However, foreign visitors still need to prove they are Covid-free before entering the country.
Double-jabbed travellers entering most Australian states need a negative PCR test three days before their flight – or a rapid test 24 hours before departure – to be exempt from any quarantine.
Western Australia, which is still pursuing a Covid-zero strategy, is expected to keep arrival caps in place and 14-day quarantine rules which will prevent large numbers of international tourists entering the state from overseas.
Visa holders who are not vaccinated will need a travel exemption to enter the country and will be subject to state and territory quarantine requirements on arrival.
Between 2018 and 2019, tourism generated more than $60billion for the Australian economy and 660,000 people were employed in the tourism sector.
Australia has opened its border in stages after only allowing Australian citizens and permanent residents from March 2020.
In November 2021 skilled migrants and students were also allowed to enter provided they were fully vaccinated.