Another day — another border reopens.
In the past two weeks, a slew of countries announced plans to reopen or relax border restrictions. These include places that have maintained some of the strictest pandemic-related border controls in the world.
The announcements come on the heels of a record-setting period of global infections. According to the World Health Organization, Covid-19 cases hit a new peak worldwide in late January, with more than 4 million cases registered in a single day.
However, many countries are signaling that they can’t economically afford — or are no longer willing — to stay closed.
The pervasiveness of the omicron variant, which started spreading in countries — both open and closed — late last year, led people to question the utility of locked border policies.
In addition, more than half (54%) of the world’s population is now vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. Medical treatments can successfully thwart and treat severe infections. And, many experts are now “cautiously optimistic” — as top American medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has stated — that a new phase of the pandemic may be within reach.
Arguably the biggest announcement of the past week came Monday, when Australia declared plans to reopen to vaccinated travelers from Feb. 21.
The news signaled the end to “Fortress Australia,” a moniker applied to the country’s controversial closed border policy that locked out foreigners and citizens alike.
Visitors to Australia must be vaccinated, a requirement underscored by the country’s much discussed ouster of tennis player Novak Djokovic in January.
James D. Morgan | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images
The economic toll of Australia’s insular border policy was highlighted in January, when soon after backpackers were granted permission to enter, Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to refund some $350 in visa fees to those who moved swiftly. As it turned out, the about-face toward “working holiday maker” visa holders was part of an effort to reduce severe labor shortages.
Darryl Newby, co-founder of the Melbourne-based travel company Welcome to Travel, said the pandemic “not only affected the travel sector but every single industry” in Australia.
Pressure mounted when Covid infections skyrocketed in December, leaving an open question as to the purpose of keeping vaccinated and tested travelers locked out.
“Negative sentiment,” which began showing up in market research, may have been another factor, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. The article quoted Tourism Australia Managing Director Phillipa Harrison as saying the country went from being “envied” to “ridiculed” over its border policies, with some fearing lasting damage to Australia’s touristic appeal.
The state of Western Australia, home to Perth, is not reopening to either foreigners or Australian tourists yet. It scrapped plans to reopen amid a rise in Covid cases in January.
Percent of peak*: 38%
*Reuters’ rolling 7-day daily…
Read More: Australia, New Zealand, Bali, Malaysia, Philippines reopen for travel