Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday declared that interstate travel will return to normal in the country by the end of 2021 despite the current Covid-19 outbreaks and lockdowns in major cities.
Morrison promised that domestic borders will be open and Australians will be allowed to gather in large numbers for Christmas on December 25, reports Xinhua news agency.
Australia has abandoned the Covid-zero approach to the pandemic amid outbreaks in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra that have plunged about half of the population into strict lockdowns.
“Holding onto Covid zero will only hold Australians back as the world moves forward,” Morrison told News Corp Australia.
Federal, state and territory governments have agreed to open borders and ease restrictions when 70-80 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated against the virus.
At the current rate of vaccination, Australia may hit those milestones within this year, according to local media.
“Everyone can make plans for a family Christmas, with all our loved ones at the dinner table,” Morrison said.
“Nobody wants Covid to be the virus that stole Christmas, and we have a plan and the vaccinations available to ensure that’s not the case.”
His optimistic comments came as Australia reported 1,683 new locally-acquired cases of Covid-19 on Sunday, the second highest record number after more than 1,700 fresh infections were registered the previous day.
The country’s overall infection tally thus increased to 61,619, while the death toll stood at 1,036.
Of the new cases, 1,485 were from New South Wales (NSW), the current epicentre of the pandemic in the country, where the state health department also recorded three deaths on Sunday morning.
“There have been 126 Covid-19 related deaths in NSW since June 16, 2021,” said the statement from NSW Health.
Victoria, the second-most populous state, reported a further 183 new local cases.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) reported another 15 new cases, down from a record-high of 32 on Saturday.
For the second consecutive day, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr urged Canberra residents to come forward for Covid tests when needed.
“It is critical that if you have any symptoms, you come forward for testing immediately,” he said on Sunday.