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COVID vaccine requirement to be scrapped for international arrivals

Foreign citizens seeking to visit Australia will no longer have to declare their COVID-19 vaccination status, bringing to an end one of the tough border control measures enacted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Health Minister Mark Butler said the change to the Biosecurity Act will come into effect from 12.01am on July 6th and was based on advice from Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.

Health Minister Mark Butler.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Travellers will still have to comply with other COVID-19 requirements that exist such as mask-wearing on inbound international flights, while state-based rules on masks will also remain in place.

“The Australian government makes decisions on COVID-related issues after considering the latest medical advice,” Butler said.

“Unvaccinated Australians, as well as certain groups of visa holders, have been able to travel to Australia for some time. We will continue to act on the medical advice as needed.”

Australia recorded 32,718 new COVID cases and 54 deaths in the 24 hours to Sunday, placing it in the global top five in both instances according to tracking website Worldometer – though it is likely that some countries are not reporting the full extent of their infections and deaths.

Epidemiologists are increasingly concerned about the spread of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants and are calling for a fourth COVID-19 booster shot for the entire adult population to be approved within months, as Australia approaches 10,000 deaths.

Australia shut its borders because of the pandemic on March 20, 2020 and only began to re-open from November 1, 2021, which meant that many citizens and permanent residents were locked out of the country for months or even years because of strict entry caps and tough conditions about who could enter.

Even after the border was opened to citizens, permanent residents and some students, some visa holders, including tourists, were unable to visit from overseas until the border opening was expanded on February 21, 2022. The tough rules meant tennis star Novak Djokovic was deported in January ahead of the Australian Open because he wasn’t vaccinated.

Once restrictions on who could enter the country were removed, a double vaccination requirement remained in place under the Biosecurity Act.

Butler said on Sunday that no advice had been presented to Australia’s health ministers to re-instate mask mandates to tackle rising COVID-19 case numbers and urged the six million Australians who had not had their booster to do so as soon as possible.

“It is clear that we expect an increase in cases over coming months with the increased prevalence of the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants of the Omicron variant. We are clear about that,” he said.

“It is pretty clear that case numbers are expected to rise in the coming months, there is pressure on our hospitals with more than 3000 people in hospital today with COVID and we are still seeing around 300 or more deaths every week with COVID. We are not through this virus yet.”

On Thursday, Butler ordered a snap inquiry into Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine supplies, future variant jabs and how Australia’s rollout had been caught short at the height of the pandemic.

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