Travel restrictions

WA border open after two years of COVID-19 travel restrictions, bringing tears of joy to Perth

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.

Some parents have struggled for months to bring their children back to WA.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

There were tears of joy when the first plane landed just after midnight.

Among the first to arrive was Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese arrived on the first flight to Perth.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

For many, March 3 will mean reuniting with loved ones for the first time since the pandemic began.

A mother and daughter hug each other while wearing face masks and posing for a photo inside Perth Airport.
There were tears of joy as well as smiles hidden by face masks as families reunited in Perth.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

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.

Two smiling young girls standing at Perth airport, one holding a small stuffed quokka.
Amal Suleiman (rear) and her family were among those who landed in Perth, holding stuffed quokkas.(ABC News: Jessica Warriner)

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 smiling young woman is sitting in a car.
There were big smiles from those crossing the WA-NT border into the Kimberley just after midnight.(ABC News: Ted O’Connor)

A queue of people traveling from South Australia formed at the Eucla road checkpoint overnight, with some lingering fears the border could close.

Wide shot of long queue of cars and trucks at Eucla border checkpoint.
A long line of motorists remained at the Eucla border crossing later in the morning.(ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)

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.”

Motorists and a man wearing a high visibility vest stand between vehicles at the Eucla border checkpoint.
The rain didn’t put a damper on things for motorists wanting to enter WA at the Eucla road checkpoint.(ABC Goldfields: Jarrod Lucas)

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.

Harley and Lauren are in their car, Harley is talking to an ABC microphone.
Harley and Lauren entered WA in the early morning at Eucla, shortly after the border opened.(ABC News)

“[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.

A station worker crosses the WA border from the NT
Hugh Hunter says it’s a “huge relief” to be able to cross the border to work.(ABC News: Ted O’Connor)

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.

Rex and Judy Booth crossing the NT border
Geraldton resident Judy Booth (right) says being allowed into WA again is like winning the lotto.(ABC News: Ted O’Connor)

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.

toddler waiting for luggage
Some returning West Australians were too young to have memories of WA. (ABC News: Cason Ho)

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.

Couple reunited as airport WA border reopens
They are just one of the couples who have been reunited after the first flights arrived at Perth airport.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

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.

Two people sit inside Perth airport waiting for an aircraft to arrive.
The anxious wait is over after WA’s original border opening date was delayed by almost a month.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

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