The Australian state of New South Wales will allow some returning international travelers to quarantine at home starting at the end of the month, possibly signaling the beginning of the end for the country’s strict hotel quarantine system.
The pilot program will allow 175 fully vaccinated people to isolate in their homes for seven days rather than spend two weeks in a government-appointed facility, Stuart Ayres, a New South Wales government official, announced on Friday. The police will employ location-based tracking and facial-recognition technology to monitor new arrivals’ movements, he added. Similar technology has been used in Western Australia since November.
The program will help the country plan next steps toward ending the current system, Mr. Ayres said at a news conference: “We’ve got to be able to learn what happens when we put people into home-based quarantine. Australia must reopen. We must get rid of lockdowns; we must re-engage with the world.”
Passengers arriving in Australia are currently required to spend two weeks in a hotel room. But spots in the country’s quarantine system are hard to come by. The border is closed to almost everyone other than returning citizens, many of whom have faced flight cancellations because of the country’s tight limit on the number of arrivals. In July, the cap was halved to 3,000 passengers a week, further complicating some Australians’ efforts to return home.
The announcement of the pilot program comes as New South Wales reaches a key vaccination goal: Half of all residents over age 16 have now received two doses of a Covid vaccine, while more than 80 percent have had at least one. The state is battling one of the country’s most severe outbreaks, with 1,284 new cases and 12 deaths recorded on Friday.
Greg Hunt, the federal health minister, also announced that Australia has surpassed the goal of providing one dose of the vaccine to 70 percent of people over age 16. “It’s a significant and important milestone in protecting Australians and keeping Australians safe,” he said at a news conference on Friday.
Victoria, which neighbors New South Wales, has also administered a first Covid vaccine dose to at least 70 percent of the population over 16, and will ease some restrictions starting late Friday night. The vast majority of businesses remain closed, and a curfew is still in place in Melbourne, the largest city.
Australia will soon begin vaccinating people with the Moderna vaccine, in addition to vaccines produced by AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech. One million doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive by the end of the weekend, Mr. Hunt said.
Still, in response to Australia’s ongoing outbreak, New Zealand will not resume quarantine-free travel between the two countries for at least another eight weeks, Grant Robertson, the deputy prime minister, announced on Friday. The country suspended the so-called trans-Tasman bubble in July as cases began to rise in Australia.
The New Zealand city of Auckland, home to one-third of the country’s population, has been under a strict lockdown for one month, as the country attempts to eliminate the Delta variant. New Zealand has so far recorded more than 1,000 coronavirus cases and one death in the latest outbreak.