Western Australia is open after the state’s hard border was removed overnight.
Vaccinated travellers are also pouring over the border by road
“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’ll be turning Western Australia into an island within an island — our own country,” Premier Mark McGowan said.
Almost two years later, 697 days to be exact, WA has opened back up to Australia and the world.
There were tears of joy as the first plane touched down 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.
“I have my family back together again,” one father said at the airport.
Some returning West Australians have not been home in almost two years.
“I can’t believe [my daughter] is here. I still don’t believe it,” a mother said.
Amal Suleiman and her family landed 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 just so happy,” she said.
Travellers mass at the border
Travellers are also crossing through the state’s open border by road.
A queue of those coming in from South Australia formed at the Eucla road checkpoint overnight, with some flagging fears the border could close again.
Chris drove from Brisbane, bringing his wife and dog back to Western Australia.
He moved to WA back in December when the border was expected to open on February 5.
They faced another month waiting to be reunited after Mr McGowan shifted the date, citing the Omicron outbreak in the east and the need to reach a higher third-dose vaccination rate.
The couple got out of Brisbane just as the floods started and had been driving since Sunday to make the crossing.
Chris thought the queue forming at the border was a product of uncertainty.
“He’ll just backflip and close the border again,” he said.
“They’ll get a couple of cases and that, close the borders again and it’s all over.”
Lauren and Harley were crossing shortly after with their kids asleep in the back.
They are on an extended road trip trying to lap Australia, but they hit an impenetrable wall in the west.
“[We’ve been] trying to get in since February 1,” Harley said.
They got stuck in South Australia and Victoria before the word came down that WA was open for business, and were also worried it might not last.
“We were sort of getting words from other people it was going to shut again and then we just thought we better get there while we can,” Harley said.
‘A massive relief’ and ‘like winning lotto’
Hugh Hunter was on his way from New South Wales to jackaroo at Spring Hill Station in the Kimberley.
He crossed at the Northern Territory border and said it was a massive relief to be able to enter the state.
“I’ve been looking forward to going down to work on the station for like, three years or more, all my life,” he said.
“I’m going to chase a few cattle and ride a few horses, do all the cowboy stuff. I’m keen.
“It’s just a massive relief to be able to finally get here and do it.”
He said if the border rules had been relaxed any 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 about $2,500, so we were just waiting for when we could come through and not quarantine,” Ms Booth said.
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“[It’s] wonderful, we can’t get over it, it’s unreal. Really happy and we’re just glad we’re on the other side now.
“My face is aching that much I’m just so excited to get through, it’s like winning the lotto.”
Thousands expected to arrive within days
About 6,000 interstate arrivals are expected inside the first two days of the reopening.
Ten international flights – from Dubai, Singapore, Doha, Kuala Lumpur, and Auckland – will bring in another 2,000 arrivals by Friday.
While vaccinated arrivals are no longer required to quarantine, measures such as mask wearing, proof of vaccination and venue capacity limits are still in place.
“Coming back from Sydney, it’s really like going back in time,” one woman who landed in Perth on the first flight back said.
But she did not mind wearing a mask if it meant she could see her family.
WA’s original border opening date was scrapped due to the Premier’s concerns over low booster vaccination rates.
Less than a month later, just under 70 per cent of West Australians aged 16 and older have received their booster dose.
West Australians now have the chance to reacclimatise to quarantine-free travel, with hopes the hard border is a thing of the past.
“It helps having Zoom and videos calls … but I’m so happy to see her again,” a husband said at the airport.
Despite surging case numbers and an air of uncertainty, little will take away from this moment so many have been waiting for.
This content was originally published here.