After being separated from his parents for two years, Jimmy Sugandi, 42, touched down on Monday in Melbourne, Australia, after traveling from Indonesia with his wife and two young children.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “We thought we were never coming back.”
Mr. Sugandi and his family are Australian permanent residents who live in Indonesia. During the pandemic, he tried to travel to Melbourne to see his parents, who live in the city. But Mr. Sugandi couldn’t get a spot on one of the extremely limited flights because of Australia’s strict border restrictions.
Tens of thousands of Australians have been stranded overseas by the border rules brought in by their country about 18 months ago to combat the coronavirus pandemic. But on Monday, theon citizens and permanent residents seeking to return. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Australians are also now able to leave the country without needing to be granted an exemption from the government.
New South Wales and Victoria are allowing vaccinated Australians to return without quarantining. The states are also removing the caps on the number of citizens allowed to fly back into the country each week, which had previously made it difficult to obtain airline tickets.
The moves come a little over a week after Melbourne.
Other Australian states remain largely closed, both to overseas visitors and to Australians returning from abroad or traveling from other states in the country.
At Melbourne airport, the first international flight to touch down was from Singapore. Families reunited with tears and kisses as airport staff handed out bouquets of flowers.
After 21 months apart, Kirsty Rae, 57, and Keely Briggs, her 25-year-old daughter, embraced.
“It’s been pretty surreal,” said Ms. Briggs, who returned from South Korea, where she had been working as a teacher, via a flight from Hong Kong. “It’s been really difficult to get back,” she noted.
“I want to confiscate her passport so she doesn’t take off again,” her mother said with a laugh.
Joy and relief were tempered by reminders of important moments missed and lives upended.
Elva Duan, who spent 18 months away, returned from Hong Kong with three young children in tow. Her husband was to pick them up outside the airport, and the children grabbed at her clothes and clamored: “Where’s daddy? Is daddy here yet?”
Ms. Duan said that her youngest son was only a few months old when they left Australia. “Now he knows how to run, how to walk, how to speak,” she said.More news from around the world:
Fully vaccinated, an effort to revive the country’s economy while it struggles to lower coronavirus case numbers. Bangkok also lifted its nighttime curfew and will allow some restaurants to serve alcohol, though bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues will remain closed at least until December.
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