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Many Australians are champing at the bit to travel overseas again, after nearly two years of closed borders and lockdowns.
International borders opened for fully vaccinated Aussies at the beginning of this month, with travel exemptions to leave the country no longer required.
The Omicron variant has been declared a COVID-19 "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization as cases start appearing in countries well away from southern Africa. Here's everything that happened over the weekend regarding this new variant.
But as the arrival of Omicron — a new variant of concern first detected in South Africa over the weekend — shows, we are still far from slipping back into our pre-pandemic travel habits.
In response to the World Health Organization declaration, Australia closed its borders to nine southern African countries, forcing arrivals back into 14 days of mandatory quarantine. New South Wales and Victoria have also reinstated 72 hours of mandatory isolation for all other overseas arrivals.
On Monday night, the federal government also deferred Wednesday's planned easing of border restrictions for international students and other eligible visa holders until December 15.
Even taking Omicron out of the equation, international travel is completely different during the pandemic. With airlines hurrying to restart suspended routes, competing border and quarantine policies and varying risks of COVID-19 around the world, there's more to consider than simply putting your out of office on.
We've had a look at the requirements for the top 10 travel destinations from Australia in 2019. Information is current for November 29, but double-check before you book.
Not right now. While New Zealand was the first international destination open to Australians as part of a trans-Tasman travel bubble earlier this year, the arrangement was suspended when the Delta variant took hold along Australia's east coast.
From January 16, fully vaccinated New Zealand residents and other eligible travellers will be able to travel between the countries without quarantining.
But foreign travellers will have to wait until at least April 30 to enter the country, as part of a staged reopening.
The government has not announced whether these plans will change due to Omicron, which has so far not been detected in the country.
Air New Zealand was forced to cancel thousands of trans-Tasman flights this week due to continuing border uncertainty — but, the airline has continued to operate a reduced flight schedule between Sydney and Melbourne for New Zealanders trying to get home.
As of last month, Qantas said flights to New Zealand were scheduled to recommence from mid-December, while Virgin Australia plans to resume flights to New Zealand from early 2022.
A lot like Australia, a few weeks ago.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that the three-and-a-half-month lockdown in Auckland would end next month as the country transitions away from its long-held "COVID zero" approach.
Like Australia, New Zealand employed strict lockdowns, rigorous contract tracing and hard border closures to keep the virus out. As a result, the country of five million has recorded just over 40 deaths from the virus.
Fully vaccinated New Zealanders in Australia will be able to travel to New Zealand without two weeks of quarantine from January 16, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.
But the Delta variant has forced the government to change tack. "The hard truth is that Delta is here and not going away," Ms Ardern said last week. At the moment, daily case numbers are hovering around the 200 mark.
Yes. The agreement covers hospital care and pharmaceuticals if Australians in New Zealand require urgent medical care that cannot wait until they return home. It doesn't cover GP appointments or other primary care providers.
To access treatment under the agreement, you must be able to show your Australian passport and a current Medicare card.
Yes, and they don't have to quarantine. From November 1, a one-way travel bubble was re-established for fully vaccinated New Zealand travellers who return a negative COVID-19 test.
Not quite. Vaccinated international travellers are required to complete seven days of quarantine in a hotel and undergo COVID-19 testing on arrival in Indonesia.
The duration of quarantine for all international arrivals was increased from three days in the wake of the Omicron designation. Travellers from eight African countries have also been banned from entering Indonesia.
But a Bintang on the beach might not be far off, with the country's President Joko Widodo eager to get Australians back to Bali. Meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the G20 Leaders' summit, Widodo reportedly proposed a "vaccination travel lane" between the two countries, that would allow fully vaccinated people to travel without quarantine requirements.
Indonesia has also suspended visa-free and visa-on-arrival arrangements. In order to enter the country, travellers must now apply for a tourist visa in advance.
Indonesia's Garuda Airlines has cancelled most of its Australia routes during the pandemic, maintaining just one weekly flight between Sydney and Jakarta.
And there are currently no airlines flying direct to Bali from Australia.
Qantas, Jetstar, and Virgin have all said they plan to resume flights to Bali from early next year.
Over the past week, Indonesia has recorded daily case numbers in the low-to-mid hundreds. This is down from a peak in July, when more than 50,000 cases were being detected each day in the archipelago nation of more than 273 million.
Australians will soon be able to go to places like the UK, which has close to 50,000 cases of COVID-19 a day but travel to Indonesia, which is recording fewer than 1000 cases a day, won't be allowed.
The Smart Traveller advice level for Indonesia is currently "exercise a high degree of caution", partially due to COVID-19 which remains "present throughout Indonesia". There are also limited testing and infection control facilities in the country.
"Critical care for Australians who become seriously ill, including in Bali, is significantly below the standard available in Australia," Smart Traveller says.
Some COVID-19 restrictions also remain in place and differ according to jurisdiction. These include capacity limits, time limits for eating out, and business curfews.
But Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno has stressed Bali is ready to welcome back tourists. "We have instituted social restrictions programs that have, thank god, worked very well at bringing down COVID case numbers," he said last month.
No. Indonesia has also made travel insurance that covers COVID-19 medical expenses up to $US100,000 mandatory for incoming travellers.
Only fully vaccinated people with eligible visas will be able to enter Australia from December 15 at this stage. There is so far no travel bubble arrangement for Indonesian tourists.
Yes, fully vaccinated travellers are free to enter the United States without quarantining as long as they return a negative COVID-19 test no more than three days before boarding the flight or can prove they have recovered from the virus in the past 90 days.
All vaccines currently available in Australia are accepted.
Foreign nationals who have recently been in eight southern African countries are banned from entering the country.
Good news for people hoping to get over to the US this year, Qantas is already operating direct flights to Los Angeles from Sydney four times a week.
United and Delta Airlines have also continued their direct Sydney-Los Angeles services throughout the pandemic.
Earlier this month, Air New Zealand brought back its Sydney to Los Angeles route, flying via Auckland, with plans to ramp up the number of services from December 1.
Qantas also plans to resume flights between Sydney and Honolulu from December 20, and Sydney and Dallas Fort Worth from February 15 next year.
COVID-19 is still running rampant in the US — which has been hit harder by the virus than any other country — with Smart Traveller describing it as a "serious risk". Case numbers of almost 100,000 a day are regularly being reported.
After being hindered by the pandemic last year, giant balloons have once again loomed over the streets of Manhattan for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
There are also fears the Thanksgiving holiday period will lead to another surge in cases, as people travel around the country to be with their families. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) says community transmission remains high in most states.
Across the country, some social distancing rules and restrictions remain in place — varying between states and even cities.
Health officials in the US have warned it is inevitable that Omicron would make its way into the country.
"It clearly is giving an indication that it has the capability of transmitting rapidly. That's the thing that's causing us now to be concerned," top infectious disease official Anthony Fauci told NBC.
There is no reciprocal healthcare agreement between the US and Australia, and tourists may be required to pay costs upfront if they can't show proof of insurance.
According to Smart Traveller, medical care in the US can be expensive. "A visit to a doctor for a minor issue can cost hundreds of dollars, not including tests or medication costs," the website says.
There is no travel bubble for US citizens hoping to come to Australia. Only travellers with an approved visa will be able to enter Australia from December 15.
Australians who are fully vaccinated no longer need to show a negative COVID-19 test result before departing for the UK, unless they're travelling from a "red list" country.
But fully vaccinated travellers from Australia and those under the age of 18 must still:
Australians who are not fully vaccinated must comply with additional pre-departure testing requirements and complete 10 days quarantine at home or wherever they're staying on arrival.
Travellers arriving from "red list" countries — which include southern African countries where Omicron has been detected — are required to undertake quarantine in a managed hotel.
Travellers are in luck here: there are more airlines flying to the UK than many other countries. Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways, and Malaysia Airlines all have services from Australia.
The Delta variant was detected in the UK earlier than many other countries, triggering a swift rise in COVID cases in May — but it also prompted an acceleration of its vaccination rollout, which was praised as "world-leading".
But four months since Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted just about all of England's COVID restrictions, the country is again logging weekly increases in case numbers, with more than 40,000 new cases a day and about a thousand deaths each week.
Experts are now worried about hospitals' capacity to cope with a likely spike in cases in coming months, when colder weather is expected to fuel infections and protection from vaccines wanes.
In response to the threat of Omicron, Johnson reinstated rules making face masks mandatory in shops and on public transport in England. Three cases of the variant have been detected in the UK.
The continent is once again the epicentre of a pandemic, prompting new lockdowns and restrictions.
Meanwhile, the death toll from COVID-19 across Europe is likely to hit two million people by March next year, the World Health Organisation said this week, with Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge warning the region is facing a "challenging winter".
COVID is now the number one cause of death across Europe, the agency said, with almost 4,200 new deaths a day — double the rate at the end of September.
Despite calls for the government to reimpose some restrictions, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain mostly open. Shops, hotels, restaurants, museums, theme parks, theatres, nightclubs and other venues are able to operate as normal, though some enforce density limits, use of face masks and proof of vaccination status.
In London, the hospitality sector is rebounding and it's not unusual to see packed pubs, restaurants and music venues across the city. Large crowds are back at tourist hotspots like Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and Oxford Street, as the UK's borders are again open to most countries.
Many locals are also returning to the office, so expect buses and trains to be quite busy — especially in rush hour.
The government recommends face masks be worn in crowded places, including on public transport.
Australia has a reciprocal health care agreement with the UK, which may cover some medical costs in the public health system. You'll need to ask for care as an NHS patient and be able to show your passport and Medicare card. But not everything is covered, so check before you go.
Currently, only travellers who are exempt or have been granted an individual exemption can come to Australia — so long as they hold a valid visa. Exempt categories include Australian citizens, permanent residents and immediate family members of Australian citizens or permanent residents.
From December 15, travel exemptions will no longer be imposed on fully vaccinated eligible visa holders including students, skilled workers, and those on humanitarian, working holiday and family visas, the government announced this week.
No. Unlike some other countries in Asia which are cautiously reopening internal borders, China's borders remain tightly controlled under the country's strict "COVID zero" policy.
China is adhering to its COVID-zero policy and that could leave many Chinese Australians who are eager to go back facing a tough choice.
Travellers with valid Chinese residence permits for work, personal matters and reunion may be able to enter China without applying for new visas, but multiple testing requirements are in place and hotel quarantine on arrival is mandatory — and arduous.
In some Chinese cities, travellers face a month-long quarantine during which they're tested seven times and only allowed to open their hotel room doors to accept food deliveries.
There are currently no plans to tighten border restrictions in response to Omicron.
Direct flights between China and Australia are limited, and China has suspended all visas on arrival, including transit visas.
Nearly two years after the coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, China is enforcing a "zero COVID" strategy of widespread lockdowns and testing in a bid to contain outbreaks in more than a dozen provinces.
Though many of its neighbours in the Asia-Pacific have abandoned COVID elimination strategies, China's borders have mostly remained shut to stop the virus from being imported with overseas travellers ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.
And if its low COVID death rate — 62 times better than Australia's — is accurate, the policy could be seen as a success.
Official figures suggest China may have become a global leader in keeping COVID-19 patients alive. But can the numbers be believed?
Until recently, life in China has mostly continued this year "as normal" — full restaurants, open shops and theatres, domestic travel — because of the country's efforts to control the spread of the virus.
Authorities take swift and drastic action to contain outbreaks when they emerge, sometimes sending hundreds of COVID cases and contacts into quarantine and carrying out mass testing.
While many Chinese are supportive of the approach, others — including some in Australia — say they've suffered from not being able to travel freely to visit relatives and friends.
And it's unclear how long the COVID-zero policy will be maintained. Though 80 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated, questions have been raised about the efficacy of its locally produced vaccines, which could create problems when the country opens up.
"There is a view that China's COVID-zero policy is likely to continue to the end of the Winter Olympics," La Trobe University Professor Chaojie Liu said last month.
"It's difficult for any country or government to really abandon the elimination strategy because people have got used to living in that kind of environment."
Australia does not have a reciprocal healthcare agreement with China, which means that if you need medical assistance, travellers or their insurer must pay the full cost of treatment.
Again, flights between China and Australia are currently limited. Only travellers who are exempt or have been granted an individual exemption can come to Australia — so long as they hold a valid visa. Exempt categories include Australian citizens, permanent residents and immediate family members of Australian citizens or permanent residents.
At this stage, from December 15, travel exemptions will no longer be imposed on fully vaccinated eligible visa holders.
Thailand has approved tourists from 63 countries for quarantine-free travel from November 1 — and Australia is on the list.
To be eligible visitors must be double-vaxxed and show two negative COVID-19 tests: one PCR test taken before departure and one rapid-antigen test taken on arrival.
Australian passport holders do not need a visa to travel to Thailand but must now apply for a Thailand Pass.
Travellers from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe will be banned from December.
Qantas Airways and Thai Airways are due to resume flights to Thailand from this month with other airlines, including Jetstar, to begin flights from next year.
After an August peak of more than 20,000 cases a day in Thailand, daily infection rates have fallen to just under 6,000 cases per day. But with under 50 per cent of the population vaccinated, the situation remains precarious.
As Thailand allows its first visitors in 18 months to skip hotel quarantine, Bangkok-based Australians are looking to take advantage of the relaxing of restrictions and opening of borders to be reunited with loved ones.
COVID restrictions are in place in high-risk provinces around the country, including curfews, limits on visitor numbers at some sites and mask mandates.
No. Travellers must prove that they have insurance with COVID-19 cover to $50,000.
There is no travel bubble with Thailand yet, so Thai nationals have similar conditions to others, with the exemption process removed for Australia visa holders from December 15.
If you have been dreaming of a ski trip or a holiday slurping ramen in Tokyo, then you'll have to dream some more.
On Monday it was announced Japan would close its borders to all foreign travellers in response to the Omicron variant, with authorities describing the step as an "emergency precaution".
There is some hope group tourism may return in time for cherry blossom season in March 2022 — Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told The Japan Times that while sightseers are not currently accepted, tourism groups may be able to return once the practicality of monitoring their movements is worked out.
Japan's ANA — which kept flying throughout the pandemic – is operating between Australia and Japan and so is Japan Airlines. Qantas is due to begin flights to Japan shortly. Singapore Airlines is also flying from Sydney to Tokyo via Singapore.
Flights are limited to 100 passengers and keep in mind that if you are approved for travel, you will not be able to use public transport on arrival and must arrange a private car service to your accommodation.
With COVID affecting flight schedules at short notice, it's possible travellers may be faced with cancelled flights and an expiring visa. Extensions must be made in person at an immigration Services Agency.
After a huge spike in COVID cases over the Japanese summer – peaking at more than 24,000 cases per day – national infection rates have now fallen to their lowest point since June 2020 with cases jumping around from about 40 to 150 a day over the past week.
Japan experiences a sharp decline in coronavirus cases after the Olympic host country suffers its most severe outbreak of the pandemic.
In Tokyo figures have dropped to the lowest numbers since May last year.
Just over 75 per cent of Japan's population is now vaccinated. No cases of the Omicron variant have been reported.
No. Australians in Japan are liable for medical and associated costs and must hold travel or health insurance. Australians who live in Japan for more than three months can register for Japan's national health insurance scheme.
Everything was due to change on December 1 with vaccinated tourists and visa holders from Japan and South Korea welcomed back to Australia for quarantine-free travel. But with the emergence of the Omicron variant, the federal government has delayed the easing until December 15.
India closed its borders to foreign tourists in March 2020 but has now tentatively reopened, with tourists welcomed back from November 15.
New guidelines issued over the weekend require arrivals from at-risk countries to undergo a PCR test on arrival. If the result is negative, travellers will be required to quarantine at home for a week and take a second test on the eighth day.
The list of at-risk countries includes parts of Europe, the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.
Other tourists must upload a declaration to the Air Suvidha Portal and show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival. If you are fully vaccinated then there is no requirement to quarantine.
If not, self-isolation is required for two weeks.
Qantas will resume three flights a week to Delhi via Darwin on December 6 with plans to offer a daily connection from next year.
Air India has also resumed flights between Australia and India following a pandemic pause.
India is one of the countries worst affected by COVID-19, with more than 34 million infections and more than 500,000 registered deaths.
Indian authorities are prepare to celebrate the milestone by holding music events and lighting up national monuments, but only 30 per cent of the country's eligible population is fully vaccinated.
But after a peak of more than 400,000 cases a day in May, India is now recording just under 10,000 daily infections.
There are signs a new COVID-19 wave may be beginning and travellers are urged to undertake extreme caution.
Australia does not have a healthcare agreement with India. Insurance is required for travel here, but tourists should be aware that if another COVID wave takes off the hospital system may be unable to cope with the influx of patients — whether you hold health insurance or not.
At this stage, from December 15 vaccinated Indian visa holders are allowed to travel.
Yes, fully vaccinated Australian travellers have been able to enter Singapore without quarantining since November 8 — as long as they return a negative COVID-19 test.
Many Australians are rightly looking forward to a carefree summer. However, experts warn Singapore's current COVID-19 surge may be a prime example of how Australia could struggle to remain virus-free for very long.
Travellers are required to take a PCR within 48 hours prior to departure, and a second test on arrival at Changi airport. They then must self-isolate until they return a negative result.
Like many other countries, Singapore has moved to restrict travel for people who have visited seven African countries in the past 14 days.
Qantas is flying direct to Singapore from Melbourne and Sydney, while Jetstar will commence Darwin and Melbourne routes to Singapore from mid-December.
Singapore Airlines is also operating daily direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne. Scoot, Singapore Airlines' budget subsidiary, will also run a daily Melbourne-Singapore flight and four weekly Sydney-Singapore routes.
After a long period of suppression, COVID-19 cases are on the rise. Last month, case numbers peaked at more than 5,000 a day before dropping down to under 2,000 a day last week.
Authorities say they are tracking the Omicron variant very closely and have warned they may be forced to scale back opening up plans.
"We are not sure yet, but we may well be forced to take a few steps back, before we can take more steps forward," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reportedly told Channel News Asia on Sunday.
"But despite all this, I am confident that we will find our way to living with the virus, and safely resume all the things we love to do."
Earlier this month, the country made headlines when they announced unvaccinated COVID-19 patients would have to pay their own medical bills from December 8 amid the growing outbreak.
Previously the Ministry of Health said they had covered the COVID-19 health care costs of all Singaporeans, permanent residents, and long-term pass holders.
There is no reciprocal healthcare agreement between Australia and Singapore.
While the standard of health care is on par with Australia, Smart Traveller warns the "cost of medical services is much higher" and many providers will want upfront payments or proof of insurance before treatment.
Fully vaccinated Singaporeans are free to travel to NSW and Victoria without quarantining, following the federal government's announcement of a travel bubble earlier this month. Travellers will need to return a negative test result within 72 hours of boarding the plane.
"This is another significant milestone in our step by step approach to safely reopening to the world that we outlined in the National Plan," Morrison said announcing the arrangement.
Yes, from December 1, fully vaccinated Australians can skip quarantine when they arrive in Fiji.
You must present evidence of a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before departure and take a rapid antigen test during your first 48 hours in Fiji. You'll also need travel insurance with international coverage for COVID-19.
Restrictions for travellers arriving from "red-list" countries have been stepped up in response to Omicron, with people arriving from those countries required to quarantine on arrival for 14 days.
“We’re monitoring the Omicron variant closely as it has been shown to carry significant mutations that could spell higher rates of transmissibility and virulence," Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services James Fong said.
Domestic quarantine may still be required for travel to some islands in Fiji with low vaccination coverage.
The first Fiji Airways commercial flight from Australia to Fiji since March 2020 leaves Sydney on December 1. The airline will have 14 flights a week from Sydney and daily flights from Melbourne and Brisbane.
Qantas flights from Sydney are due to restart in December.
After hitting a peak of more than 1,000 cases a day during July and August, the COVID situation has stabilised in the country with just a handful of cases most days. Around 700 Fijians have died from the virus.
With Fiji welcoming tourists from a select number of countries, including Australia, the US and New Zealand from November 11, Sydney mother Lisa Thwaite wasted no time in booking an international family vacation, instead of risking interstate border closures with a domestic holiday.
The vaccination rate has picked up with nearly 70 per cent of the population double dosed.
Mask wearing is still mandatory in all indoor public venues, on public transport and in crowded settings like markets and shopping malls.
The country has prioritised getting ready for tourists to come back and is one of the first to throw open its borders.
"Fiji is a pioneer of COVID-safe international travel; our entire working population is on track to be fully vaccinated by November," Fiji Airways Managing Director and CEO Andre Viljoen said.
There is no reciprocal healthcare agreement between Australia and Fiji.
Smart Traveller says medical care standards in Fiji aren't as high as in Australia, and that in emergencies evacuation to Australia may be required, which can be very expensive.
Visits to Australia for tourism aren't allowed yet, but eligible fully vaccinated visa holders may enter from December 15 at this stage.
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