Australia’s two most populous states reopened their borders on Monday after more than four months, as Victoria wiped out a second wave of coronavirus, raising prospects for a faster return to a normal and rapid economic recovery.
New South Wales and Victoria closed their borders in early July, the first time in more than a century, to contain a Covid-19 outbreak in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria. The borders were last closed in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.
The lifting of the border ban at midnight sparked happy scenes and celebrations in border towns, with most drivers crossing the border honking their horns to cheers from border workers, television footage showed.
The reopening of borders is expected to lead to an increase in air traffic between Melbourne and Sydney, one of the busiest routes in the world before the pandemic, Sydney airport is expecting nearly 4,000 passengers on 26 flights from Victoria on Monday.
In addition to helping businesses that straddle both sides of the border, lifting the border ban will also put more people back to work in several sectors hit hard by the pandemic, including airlines.
“Today, some people who have not worked since March are going to board a plane for the first time,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told local broadcaster Seven News.
Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, appears to have effectively cleared the virus as it reported no new Covid-19 infections for the 24th day in a row on Monday.
Victoria, which was the country’s coronavirus epicenter just over a month ago, on Sunday relaxed its rules for outdoor masks and allowed larger public gatherings, aided by a steady decline in cases.
Victoria accounts for around 73% of Australia’s total Covid-19 cases, just over 27,800 and 90% of its 907 deaths.