Heartwarming scenes have unfolded at Sydney airport as reunited families and friends embraced for the first time in nearly two years as NSW officially opened its borders to international arrivals.
Sixteen quarantine-free flights touched down on Australian shores on Monday morning, marking an end to isolation requirements for inbound travellers which had been in place since March last year.
Emotions ran high as Australians returning from abroad emerged from the airport gates and ran to friends and family eagerly waiting for them inside Kingsford Smith Airport.
Tears pearled down cheeks as people squeezed each other by the baggage carousel, while others kissed through their face masks – in scenes reminiscent of box office 2003 hit romantic-comedy Love Actually.
But for others, the happy scenes were bittersweet – and a reminder of the fact they can’t be replicated elsewhere in the country, particularly Western Australia.
Premier Mark McGowan insists residents stranded in NSW can’t return home even for compassionate reasons due to the state’s classification as ‘extreme risk’, over fears the virus will spread in the Covid-Zero state.
One devastated Australian barred from visiting his dying mother in Western Australia made headlines after he lashed out at Mr McGowan shortly arriving at the airport.
Two women wearing masks affectionately place their foreheads against each other in joy as the international border reopened for the first time in almost 600 days
Couple Matthew and Anthea Whitehead kissed through their masks – as scenes reminiscent of romantic comedy Love Actually emerged across the airport
Emotional scenes unfolded at Sydney Airport on Monday morning as reunited families and friends embraced
A woman (left) is embraced by her friend after arriving in Sydney on a flight from Los Angeles on Monday as Australia opened its borders for the first time in 19 months
A woman embraces her family as the first quarantine-free flights in nearly two years arrived at Kingsford Smith Airport
A man and woman hug as they exchange a welcome back balloon and flowers after being reunited in Sydney on Monday
A woman clutches at the face of a loved one in happiness after the pair were reunited as border restrictions eased in NSW
A woman is greeted with flowers as she hugs a young loved one after disembarking from an international flight on Monday
The man pleaded for assistance from the NSW Health Department to help him find a way around the extreme border measure and reunite with his sick mother.
‘She’s been in permanent care for a few years and it’s been so long since I’ve seen her, I love her heaps and I just want to get back there,’ he said.
The man then addressed the West Australian Premier on live TV and begged for his compassion.
‘Mark, think of the people suffering mentally to see their family, that’s also a health issue, I know we have to protect people’s lives but you have to bring families back together,’ he said.
‘We respect you are trying to be safe but everybody needs to be together, please.’
Today’s plane arrivals marked the first time in 590 days that some families have seen each other after international borders were closed in March 2020.
Under the change to international travel, vaccinated passengers arriving in Sydney won’t have to quarantine in a hotel or at home, paving the way for Australians stranded overseas to be able to come home for Christmas.
A devastated overseas arrival (pictured) who has been barred from visiting his dying mother in Western Australia has sent a brutal message to Mark McGowan
A devastated traveller has addressed Mark McGowan (pictured) on live TV and begged him to allow overseas arrivals stranded in NSW to come home to Western Australia
The teary traveller (pictured) said he would do whatever he could to return to Western Australia to visit his dying mother
A family gather for a long hug as they reunited for the first time in months inside Sydney Airport on Monday morning
At Sydney Airport, staff carried platters of muffins and savory snacks, Qantas staff donned ‘welcome’ signs, and a band set up outside – potentially to play ‘I still call Australia home’.
Toni and Theo walked in holding a ‘welcome home balloon’ and blue teddy bear for their infant granddaughter Emilia, who they’d never met.
‘Our daughter is flying in from Spain with our granddaughter – we haven’t seen her since 2019,’ the 67-year-old said.
‘Her flights kept getting cancelled, but she was lucky because she would have had to go into quarantine.’
When their daughter Melissa walked through the gates, Toni broke down.
The WA Government has pledged to continue to keep classifying NSW as ‘extreme risk’ to discourage people from using Sydney as a pitstop for overseas travel.
Residents from the isolated state who land in NSW on the first day of quarantine-free travel will still be barred from returning home, even on compassionate grounds.
Mr McGowan repeatedly claimed that by relaxing restrictions and reopening to the rest of the world, NSW risked a rise in Covid-19 infections.
The hardline premier said he ‘did not want to encourage’ Western Australians to board an international flight via Sydney.
‘It could mean that under NSW’s arrangements, if we drop them to what’s called ‘high’, people could go out of NSW overseas, come back into NSW without quarantining, and then demand to come back to WA,’ Mr McGowan said.
International travellers have embraced their loved ones for the first time in months after the first of the quarantine-free flights touched down at Sydney airport
‘This is the quandary we are in. We don’t want to encourage that because all it will mean is we get spread of the virus before such time as we have high enough levels of vaccination.’
The leader said he wanted to boost vaccination rates before allowing residents from NSW and Victoria to enter his state and potentially spread the virus.
Just over 61 per cent of Western Australians are vaccinated.
Mr McGowan is the only state or territory leader yet to announce a roadmap or a concrete date for dropping interstate border restrictions.
Emotional reunions unfolded as the first of the overseas flights arrived at Kingsford Smith Airport before dawn on Monday
Travellers emerged from the airport gates to run into the arms of their loved ones and embrace family members who had been patiently waiting for them
Families were reunited for the first time in nearly two years as emotional reunions unfolded outside the arrivals gate on Monday
As jovial scenes dominated the arrival section early on Monday morning, teary send offs were commencing at the other side of Sydney airport.
As the returned travellers walked through the arrival gates to reunite with loved ones, outgoing passengers were saying goodbye to their families before walking through the departure gates as overseas travel resumed.
Prospective travellers hugged their loved ones goodbye at the taxi stand for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Vivian, in her 50s, said a teary-eyed farewell to her best friend Heather before finally leaving for New York to see her partner and two sons.
The pair were ecstatic.
‘First of November, what a day!’ Heather said.
Families wheel their luggage out the front entrance of the airport after finally being reunited on Monday
Travellers arrive at Sydney’s International Airport as early morning flights arrived from Los Angeles, Japan and Singapore
A returned traveller speaks to media waiting outside the airport as quarantine-free flights touched down in Sydney
A returned traveller pushes his luggage through the terminal after the first of the quarantine-free flights touched down in Sydney on Monday
A woman waiting at the arrivals gate waves to her mother who was among the returned travellers on the first of the quarantine-free flights to land in Sydney on Monday
Vivian added: ‘Both my boys are in college so I had to get a travel exemption for three months and that came through and I made a lot of bookings – five or six, and then eventually landed on this one.’
Heather also explained her neighbour is finally coming home today after spending two years in Dubai.
Ava, 27, hasn’t seen her boyfriend of six years in two years and is finally flying to Singapore today.
‘It was scary before because there was no news about when I could see him, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to see him again after this, but I am feeling excited.’
‘But so many other partners are still separated with no idea when they’ll be able to see their loved ones again.’
Alex, 31, was carrying a sun hat while waiting for her flight to New York, and eventually Mexico for her niece’s second birthday.
‘I’m excited,’ she said.
‘I know the lockdowns were necessary, but it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to see family members.’
Pakoe, 33, is excited to fly to Fiji with two friends to Fiji for three months to see his family.
‘I haven’t seen them in three years,’ he said.
Another woman and her husband are flying to New York to introduce her 1.5 year old son to her parents for the first time.
A returned traveller is reunited with their loved one after the first planes touched down at Sydney Airport on Monday
Alex, 31, was carrying a sun hat while waiting for her flight to New York, and eventually Mexico for her niece’s second birthday
Ava, 27, hasn’t seen her boyfriend of six years in two years and is finally flying to Singapore today
Meanwhile, fully jabbed people in NSW can from Monday start travelling freely between Greater Sydney and the regions.
The lifting of intrastate travel restrictions will allow families to reunite for the first time in months and marks the return of regional tourism.
‘For the first time in a long time, grandparents will be able to visit grandkids… many people will be reunited,’ Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Sunday.
He’s confident it’s a safe time to allow Sydneysiders back into the rest of the state, with double dose vaccination coverage now nearing 88 per cent.
The border opening is estimated to bring a $1 billion a week surge in consumer spending.
As of Saturday, 83.6 per cent of eligible NSW residents aged years and over 16 had received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and 87.7 per cent were fully vaccinated.
Vivian (left), in her 50s, said a teary-eyed farewell to her best friend Heather (right) before finally leaving for New York to see her partner and two sons
A returned traveller pushes his suitcases on a trolley after arriving in Sydney on Monday
Monday will also see the state’s vaccine booster program open to adults who received their second jab six months ago or longer.
Pfizer doses will be available from pharmacies, GP clinics and state-run hubs across the state.
Nationally, rapid antigen tests also become available on Monday.
The changes come as NSW continues to see virus case numbers and hospitalisations fall, after lockdown rules began to be eased three weeks ago.
Some 177 people were diagnosed with Covid-19 statewide in the 24 hours to 8pm on Saturday, 59 fewer than the day before and the lowest daily tally in more than three months.
Now 340 people are in hospital with the virus, including 78 in intensive care.
One death was announced on Sunday – an unvaccinated woman in her 70s from southwestern Sydney.
International travellers have touched down at Sydney airport as the border to NSW re-opens in a landmark day for the state’s COVID-19 response
The first overseas flight touched down at Kingsford Smith Airport before dawn on Monday
Australians who have spent the past year-and-a-half itching to go overseas will now be able to do so as long as they’ve received both jabs and are permanent residents or citizens.
Travellers will no longer need to apply for an exemption to leave the country but will need to show proof of their vaccination status.
Those under the age of 12 or who can’t be vaccinated due to medical reasons will also be allowed to travel.
Australians will also need to show proof of a negative PCR Covid test taken 72 hours before they leave the country.
Travellers under the age of five will not need to receive a Covid test.
Those living in Australia who aren’t citizens or don’t have permanent residency are still banned from returning Down Under if they were to leave.
Under the change, fully vaccinated passengers won’t have to quarantine in a hotel or at home, paving the way for Australians stranded overseas to be able to come home for Christmas
For those who are double-vaxxed and returning to Australia, there is no longer a requirement to quarantine at home or in a hotel upon arrival in NSW, Victoria and the ACT.
This means the gruelling fortnight confined to a hotel room will be a thing of the past, with travellers having had to fork out thousands of dollars to pay for their accommodation.
But the new freedoms do not apply to other states and territories.
In Tasmania, fully-vaccinated travellers can arrive in the state without having to quarantine from December 15.
They will need to provide a negative Covid test 72 hours before arrival.
Tassie residents who have been out of the state for less than a week will not need to be tested.
Qantas has already taken bookings for nearly 500,000 domestic flights within the past fortnight (pictured, Qantas crew on October 28)
Meanwhile Queensland’s borders are set to open on December 17, in line with the state hitting the 80 per cent double vaccination target.
South Australia will welcome back fully-vaccinated domestic travellers from November 23 without quarantine, and international travellers once 90 per cent are double vaxxed.
The Northern Territory will allow travellers from hot spots to home quarantine as of November 23.
Western Australia, which has remained mostly shut off to the rest of the country during the pandemic, is yet to reveal its reopening plan – much to the disappointment of families shut off from their loved ones.
MAJOR CHANGES TO COVID RULES FROM NOVEMBER 1
– Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families can now fly into NSW, Victoria or the ACT without entering hotel quarantine as long as they are fully-vaccinated
– Double-jabbed Australians are also allowed to fly overseas without getting an exemption, and can go anywhere in the world
– Sydneysiders can travel all over NSW
– Borders are down between NSW, the ACT and Victoria