By ROD McGUIRK
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Australian government expects 200,000 vaccinated foreign students and skilled workers will soon return without quarantining when the country further relaxes pandemic restrictions next week.
From Dec. 1, students, skilled workers and travelers on working vacations will be allowed to land at Sydney and Melbourne airports without needing to seek exemptions from a travel ban, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday.
“The return of skilled workers and students to Australia is a major milestone in our pathway back, it’s a major milestone about what Australians have been able to achieve and enable us to do,” Morrison said.
The government expects 200,000 arrivals in the two categories by January, he said.
Vaccinated citizens of Japan and South Korea will also be allowed in without quarantining, as well as people on humanitarian visas.
But the government has yet to decide when general tourists will be allowed to return.
“I think Australians are very keen to see us take this step-by-step approach,” Morrison said.
“They’ve been through a lot and they’ve sacrificed a lot to ensure that we can open safely so we can stay safely open,” he added.
While vaccinated travelers will be able to arrive without quarantining in New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s most populous states, parts of the country with lower vaccination rates still impose pandemic restrictions at state lines.
After a troubled and faltering start, Australia’s vaccine rollout has gathered pace. More than 85% of the population aged 16 and older is now fully vaccinated.
Australia first reopened its border to quarantine-free travelers on Nov. 1 after 20 months of some of the most draconian pandemic restrictions adopted by any democratic country. Arrivals were first restricted to Australian citizens and permanent residents.
The first flights in an Australia-Singapore quarantine-free travel bubble began on Sunday.
Some Australian farmers have left fruit and vegetables to rot in fields because the backpackers who provide the seasonal workforce of pickers have been absent.
The backpackers were some of Australia’s highest yielding visitors, spending 3.2 billion Australian dollars ($2.3 billion) a year before the pandemic. They also made up a substantial part of the seasonal workforce, Business Group Australia executive director John Hart said in a statement.
Universities Australia chief executive Catrina Jackson said her sector lost AU$1.8 billion ($1.3 billion) last year because foreign students were locked out.
“We’ve got 130,000 students waiting to get back into this country. They’ve been so patient and they’ve been so resolute. They’ve been studying online for … almost two years now,” Jackson told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“Some of them have just got a year left of their degree. It really is time to get them back into the country so they can finish their degree and get on with their lives,” Jackson said.
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