Australia is making it easier for international travellers by scrapping the requirement for arrivals to show a negative PCR test and instead allow a rapid antigen result (RAT).
Current regulations require overseas travellers to return a negative PCR test taken up to three days before their flight.
But from 1am on Sunday arrivals can instead provide a negative RAT from within 24 hours of boarding.
The time a person is banned from entering the country after testing positive to COVID-19 has also been cut in half, from 14 days to seven, bringing it in line with domestic isolation requirements.
But quarantine requirements upon entry remain subject to state and territory restrictions.
In Queensland, fully vaccinated international arrivals will be able to enter without quarantine from Saturday, January 22 in line with hitting 90 per cent double dose.
Vaccinated international travellers will be required to take a rapid antigen test within 24 hours of arrival.
Unvaccinated travellers will still be required to complete 14 days quarantine in a government-nominated facility.
The changes come after RATs have become an accepted domestic measure for testing COVID and isolation periods have been slashed to seven days.
Meanwhile Qantas has been forced to review its Perth to London route, set to restart in late March, after WA Premier Mark McGowan backflipped on his promise to reopen the border on February 5.
More than 20,000 people scheduled to fly to Perth on Qantas and Jetstar flights alone in the first week the West Australian borders were set to reopen will also have to revise their plans.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the situation was “deeply concerning”, with the premier having previously said the scheduled February 5 reopening date would provide certainty.
Thousands of flights — making up 10 per cent of the airline’s domestic capacity — have been cancelled through to the end of April.
“WA is still playing for time, despite people doing the right thing and getting vaccinated,” Mr Joyce said.
“We brought a lot of people back to work (because of that certainty). The question is what it will take for them to open. It’s very hard, as a business, to deal with this level of uncertainty.”
Mr McGowan defended his decision, saying it was to “protect our state from the worst excesses of what is going on in the eastern states”.
“What’s going on over there — with massive death rates, huge hospitalisations, massive economic dislocation, people staying home from work, kids not going to school, the army being called out — is pretty serious,” he told reporters on Friday.
“Here, we are not going through that. So what we’re trying to do is put in place the measures that will protect us … when the virus eventually has community spread here.”
The comments came on Australia’s deadliest day of the pandemic so far, with 88 virus-related fatalities reported across the country.
More than half of the deaths announced on Friday were recorded in NSW, which had 46 fatalities, a one-day record in the state.
Of the 46 fatalities, seven were from historical cases and had been determined as COVID-19 deaths following coronial investigations.
There were a further 20 deaths in Victoria, 13 in Queensland and one in Tasmania, the state’s first COVID fatality for almost two years.
Two people died with COVID-19 in the ACT, an equal high for the pandemic, along with six in South Australia.
Across the country, there were 25,168 cases in NSW, 18,167 in Victoria, 16,031 in Queensland, 3023 in South Australia, 866 in Tasmania, 826 in the ACT, 432 in the NT and 10 in WA.
WHO changes tune on booster shots
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has shifted away from its previous insistence that boosters are unnecessary for healthy adults.
The WHO said on Friday that vaccine boosters should now now be offered to people, starting with the most vulnerable, in a move away from its previous insistence that boosters were unnecessary for healthy adults and an acknowledgement that the vaccine supply is improving globally.
It said it was now recommending booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, beginning in the highest-priority groups, about four to six months after receiving the first two doses, in line with guidance from dozens of countries that embarked upon booster programs months ago.
The agency said its expert vaccine group assessed the increasing data about booster doses and noted the waning of immune protection over time.
“Boosters are part of the vaccination program but it doesn’t mean unfettered use to all ages,” Dr Kate O’Brien, WHO director of immunisation, vaccines and biologicals, said.
“We continue to have highest focus on vaccination of highest priority groups,” she said.
The WHO also endorsed the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children as young as five, at a reduced dose.