Australia will reopen its international border from November, allowing vaccinated travelers into the country for the first time in 18 months.

Currently, only citizens and people with exemptions can enter. Outbound travel is also banned without an exemption. The policy has been praised for helping to suppress COVID, but it has also controversially separated families.

PM Scott Morrison said states with vaccination rates above 80% would get the travel freedoms. “It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” he told reporters on Friday.

Australia’s mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine – which costs each traveler A$3,000 – will be phased out. It will be replaced by a seven-day home quarantine for vaccinated travelers.

However, the major airlines have already warned that they are not geared up for a quick ramping up of services.

Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are currently in lockdown due to outbreaks of the virus. That has prompted a surge in vaccine uptake in those affected areas in recent months.

New South Wales – which includes Sydney – is on track to be the first state to cross the 80% threshold, in a few weeks.

At present, people can leave Australia only for exceptional reasons such as essential work or visiting a dying relative. Key vaccination thresholds are also part of Australia’s broader plan to emerge from lockdowns and “live with the virus”.

Sydney – site of Australia’s largest airport – is due to come out of a 13-week lockdown on 11 October.

Australia currently only recognizes vaccines produced by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. The source said China’s Sinovac and Covishield, a version of AstraZeneca’s vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, would be added to the list.

(BBC)