Western Australia is open after the state’s hard border was removed overnight.
“Come home now” was the message to West Australians when it was announced the state would be closed to the rest of the country from April 5, 2020, over fears of the spread of COVID-19.
“We will turn Western Australia into an island within an island – our own country,” Prime Minister Mark McGowan said.
Almost two years later, 697 days to be exact, WA has reopened to Australia and the world.
There were tears of joy when the first plane landed just after midnight.
Among the first to arrive was Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
For many, March 3 will mean reuniting with loved ones for the first time since the pandemic began.
Some returning West Australians have not been home for nearly two years.
“I can not believe [my daughter] is here. I still don’t believe it,” said one mother.
Amal Suleiman and her family flew in from Melbourne this morning, with Ms Suleiman saying it was hard to explain how good it felt to be back in the state.
“I can’t believe it, I’m so happy,” she said.
Travelers gather at the border
Travelers also cross the state’s open border by road.
A queue of people traveling from South Australia formed at the Eucla road checkpoint overnight, with some lingering fears the border could close.
Chris drove in from Brisbane, bringing his wife and dog back to Western Australia.
He moved to WA in December when the border was due to open on February 5.
They faced another month of waiting to be reunited after Mr McGowan changed the date, citing the Omicron outbreak in the east and the need to achieve a higher vaccination rate in the third dose.
The couple drove out of Brisbane when the floods started and had been driving since Sunday to make the crossing.
Chris thought the line forming at the border was a product of uncertainty.
“He’ll just backflip and close the boundary,” he said.
“They’ll have a few cases and that will close the borders and it’ll all be over.”
Lauren and Harley were crossing soon after with their children asleep in the back.
They take a long road trip to try to circumnavigate Australia, but they hit an impenetrable wall to the west.
“[We’ve been] trying to get in since Feb. 1,” Harley said.
They got stuck in South Australia and Victoria before word got out that WA was open for business, and also worried it might not last.
“We were kind of getting word from other people that it was going to shut down again, and then we just thought we’d better get going while we can,” Harley said.
“A huge relief” and “like winning the lottery”
Hugh Hunter was en route from New South Wales to Jackaroo at Spring Hill Station in the Kimberley.
He crossed over to the Northern Territory border and said it was a huge relief to be able to enter the state.
“I’ve looked forward to working on the station for about three years or more, my whole life,” he said.
“I’m going to hunt a few cattle and ride a few horses, do all the cowboy stuff. I’m excited.
“It’s just a huge relief to finally be able to get here and do it.”
He said if the border rules had been relaxed later in the year the work might not have been there.
Rex and Judy Booth left their Geraldton home in April last year to visit their children and grandchildren in the Northern Territory.
They have been trying to get back to WA since Christmas.
“We couldn’t afford to quarantine, which was going to cost around $2,500, so we were just waiting for when we could get through and not quarantine,” Ms Booth said.
“[It’s] wonderful, we can’t get over it, it’s unreal. Really happy and we’re just happy to be on the other side now.
“My face hurts so much I’m so excited to get through it, it’s like winning the lottery.”
Thousands of people expected to arrive within days
About 6,000 interstate arrivals are expected in the first two days of reopening.
Ten international flights – from Dubai, Singapore, Doha, Kuala Lumpur and Auckland – will bring 2,000 more arrivals by Friday.
Although vaccinated arrivals are no longer required to self-quarantine, measures such as mask-wearing, proof of vaccination and venue capacity limits are still in place.
But she didn’t mind wearing a mask if it meant she could see her family.
WA’s original border opening date has been scrapped due to Prime Minister concerns over low booster vaccination rates.
Less than a month later, just under 70% of West Australians aged 16 and over have received their booster dose.
West Australians now have the chance to reacclimate to quarantine-free travel, in the hope that the harsh border is a thing of the past.
“It helps to have Zoom calls and videos…but I’m so happy to see her again,” a husband said at the airport.
Despite rising case numbers and an air of uncertainty, little will take away from this long-awaited moment.
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