NSW open to travel welcomes Aussies home | Illawarra Mercury

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Returning Australians have been reunited with family and friends in emotional scenes at Sydney Airport as NSW opens up for international and regional travel. NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet hailed the “very important milestone” in learning to live with the coronavirus after the state left the lockdown three weeks ago. “It’s the start of a new journey when we open up and we do not want to go backwards,” he told reporters in Dubbo in the west of the state on Monday. “We will start rejoining the world again.” Nearly 600 days after the nation closed its international borders, hundreds of returning Australians landed in Sydney to be greeted with tears, hugs and Tim Tams from their loved ones. Qantas QF12 from Los Angeles landed at 06.00 and took advantage of rule changes for incoming passengers who are fully vaccinated. “This is a great day for our state,” Mr Perrottet said. One man told reporters it was “a big deal” to come home after being locked out for so long. “We’re a little overwhelmed and we just can ‘t wait to see our families. It’s going to be great,” he said. One woman said she was on her way back to see her father at the hospital. “I have not been able to see him for two years and they would not let me come earlier than today – so I got the first plane back,” she said. Initially, flights are restricted to Australian nationals, residents and their immediate families and parents. Fully vaccinated passengers do not have to be quarantined at a hotel or at home, paving the way for more Australians stranded abroad to return for Christmas. Qantas flies between Sydney and London and Los Angeles, with flights to other destinations coming online in the coming weeks. “We are back in the air earlier than expected thanks to the millions of people who showed up in droves to be vaccinated,” said CEO Alan Joyce. Qantas’ QF1 flight from Sydney to London will be one of the first to depart at 18.30 with outgoing vaccinated Australians. Meanwhile, the daily figure for COVID-19 cases continues to fall. There were 135 new local cases – 42 fewer than the previous day – and four deaths recorded within 24 hours to 6 p.m. 20 Sunday. About 93.6 percent of people aged 16 and older have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 87.7 percent of adults are fully pricked. The fully vaccinated can now travel freely between Greater Sydney and the regions, paving the way for separate families to be reunited for the first time in months. It also marks the return of regional tourism, where the government predicts that business confidence will rise as the accumulated demand causes travelers to book holidays and get going. Sir. Perrottet celebrated the milestone – which was delayed by two weeks – by traveling to Dubbo with Deputy Prime Minister Paul Toole, who dismissed concerns about lower vaccination rates in the regions. More than 80 percent of regional local authorities are now double-vaccinated, compared to 36 percent two weeks ago, Mr Toole noted. Sir. Perrottet urged people to consider traveling to the NSW regions – even after other states have opened their borders. “My message today is … do not go intergovernmental – come out to the regional NSW and enjoy the best the state has to offer,” the Prime Minister said. The State Cabinet will meet this week to consider whether the deadline of 1 December for the extension of liberties for the unvaccinated can be brought forward. Monday also sees the state’s vaccine booster program open to adults who received their second jab six months ago or longer. Australian Associated Press

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