Tourists, international students, and other visa holders will be able to return to Australia in just two weeks.
The announcement comes almost two years after Australia shut itself off from the rest of the world on March 20, 2020, as COVID spread across the globe.
It also follows smaller trials within the Asia-Pacific region.
“Whether it was the programs we had in place with New Zealand or Singapore, and then with Japan and South Korea, opening up to international students and backpackers and economic migrants who are coming to Australia, that will now be extended to international visitors who will be able to return,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.
The decision to fully reopen the borders from February 21, he said, had been agreed with state premiers.
The news was welcomed by Australian Tourism Export Council managing director Peter Shelley.
Intermittent domestic tourism has not been enough sustain many businesses, especially those that had relied on overseas clients.
“We need certainty of date, and [this announcement] gives us some confidence that we can now bring some resources back and start moving in a positive direction, rather than working in a negative environment for so long,” Mr Shelley told The New Daily.
Aside from Qantas, several major airlines already fly regularly to and from Australia. They include Emirates, Etihad and Singapore Airlines.
Aside from the usual visa formalities, the one crucial requirement for international visitors is that they must be double-vaccinated to enter Australia.
In addition to the Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines administered domestically, the health regulator recognises seven other vaccines for international travel.
This is particularly important for travellers from China and India.
Mr Morrison stressed the importance of this requirement – just weeks after world tennis No.1 Novak Djokovic’s detention made world headlines for days on end. Djokovic, who remains unvaccinated, was eventually deported from the country.
“That’s the rule. Everyone is expected to abide by it. And it’s very important that people understand that requirement if they’re seeking to come to Australia,” Mr Morrison said.
“But if you’re double-vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back to Australia.”
Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said while the border reopening would be great to see, a clear plan was needed.
She wants guarantees of border officials being able to properly check vaccination statuses, as well as measures for airports to cope with the demand once tourism resumes.
“I think the borders should take into account the health advice and of course it’s important to consider where or not our hospitals can cope,” she said earlier on Monday in Canberra.
“What I’m pointing to are the practical steps that have not been done by this government and the problems that will arise if they don’t do the hard work.”
Monday’s announcement came amid a continued decline in COVID cases in Australia.
It has also led to some jurisdictions scaling back contact-tracing apps. The ACT and Queensland announced changes to check-in apps on Monday.
On Monday, there were 14 COVID in NSW, and seven fatalities in Victoria. There were also 19 in Queensland, five in South Australia and one each in the ACT and Tasmania.
The latest case numbers showed 7347 new infections in NSW and 8275 in Victoria. Queensland registered 4701 cases and SA 1147, while Tasmania had 443 and the ACT had 299.