Proof of COVID-19 vaccinations will no longer be needed to travel to Australia, opening up the country to those who have been given doses which have not been recognized by the country’s medicines regulator.
Australia opened up to foreign travelers in February but passengers have been forced to prove they have received doses of a vaccine approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
But, on Wednesday, arriving passengers will not be required to declare their vaccination status or obtain a travel exemption with the change made on the advice of the nation’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said it is hoped the changes would make it easier for traveling Australians to return home and allow more international tourists and workers to come.
Border closures and unrecognized vaccines have meant Rong Cai and Xinping Zhang have not seen their grandson Ivan in Australia since 2019.
Rong Cai and Xinping Zhang are looking forward to being reunited with grandson Ivan.
They were both given the Zifivax vaccine which was first approved for use in Uzbekistan and then in China.
Ms Cai said: “I originally planned to go to other provinces to accept Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, but later I was worried that the mixing of two COVID vaccines might bring some health problems.
“So I gave up the plan to come to Australia.”
But now she and her husband will come to Australia for Ivan’s fifth birthday and meet their granddaughter who was born a year ago.
Sydney-based woman Baixue Zhang hasn’t seen her mother in three years but now Australia is rolling back its proof of vaccination requirements, she is hoping her mother will finally be able to visit.
Baixue Zhang is hopeful she will get to see her mother after three years now that the Australian government has removed its proof of vaccination requirement. Source: Supplied
Ms Zhang’s mother had initially planned to come to Australia last year when rules changed that recognized parents as immediate family, allowing them to enter Australia.
Those plans were short-lived though as the TGA did not recognize the type of COVID-19 vaccine that her mother had received.
Ms Zhang said her mum had received three doses, one being Sinovac, which, while not approved for use in Australia, is recognized by the TGA for the purpose of travel.
But her other two doses were a vaccine she said was the Sinopharm vaccine which is not on the TGA’s list of recognized vaccines made by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products.
“She still got rejected by the Border Force, as she did not take the specific vaccine that is recognized by Australia,” she said.
After hearing the news of the government changing entry requirements, Ms Zhang was so happy to think her mother may be able to visit that she immediately booked her a flight.
But she knows there is still no guarantee her mum will be able to get to Australia.
“I’ve booked the flight for my mum, but meanwhile, I’m worried that the Circuit Breaker Measures for international flights, (a Chinese travel rule, where as long as there’s one Covid positive case, the flight will be suspended for a period of time) and the restrictions for traveling abroad might affect my mum’s trip, ”Ms Zhang said.
We expect … that all those restrictions will fade off pretty quickly
Australia Federation of Travel Agents CEO Dean Long
While the government’s requirements are changing, travelers also need to take into account whether the airline they travel into Australia with has its own vaccination policy.
Qantas declined to comment on whether it has plans to update its vaccination requirements which currently state “all passengers on international flights operated by Qantas are required to be fully vaccinated”.
But Australia Federation of Travel Agents CEO Dean Long is confident airlines will follow the government’s lead in removing the requirement for vaccinations.
“What we’ve found is the majority of airlines follow the health advice of the destination that they’re flying to. So while the announcement was made yesterday, we expect to see airlines remove those restrictions, in line with the best health advice, Mr Long said.
“We expect with the discussions that we’re having, that all those restrictions will fade off pretty quickly,” he said.
The Australian Government’s SmartTraveller website asks travelers to contact the airline or cruise operator they plan to travel with to check what their vaccination policy is and reminds travelers: “Your destination, transit location and transport operators may have their own testing and vaccination requirements.”
Ms O’Neil acknowledged non-government enforced requirements relating to vaccinations will still have to be taken into account by those planning on traveling to Australia.
The changes to vaccination entry requirements were announced on the same day Australia recorded its 10,000th COVID-19 death.
Additional reporting by SBS Mandarin TV.