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Chaos In Sydney As Visitors Come Back After Nearly Two Years

As Japan Airlines flight 51 made its final approach to Sydney airport, a news helicopter was hovering off the starboard wing.

A nation that put up the “keep out” sign almost two years ago is open again – at least most of it – and the Australians are celebrating.

Passengers from the Tokyo flight and a Qantas arrival from Los Angeles were greeted by a barrage of news media – and handed flowers, koala toys and jars of Vegemite.

For the first time since March 2020, foreigners are allowed back in. Families can get reunited, and the devastated inbound tourist industry hopes to recover.

“We’re so happy to have everyone back,” said Connie, who was wearing a blue T-shire emblazoned “Welcome Back” while handing out koalas.

In the arrivals hall a top local DJ, Sasha Moon, played a set from on top of a VW van, emblazoned with the message: “Welcome back. You were worth the wait.”

Western Australia, though, remains closed. The government in Perth will lift a travel ban on other Australians and overseas visitors only on 3 March, in a bid to increase rates of booster vaccinations before opening up to outsiders.

Anyone who has been away since the coronavirus pandemic began will find some strange aspects.

Before any of the passengers could leave the aircraft, they had to listen to back-to-back recorded announcements about Covid-19 precautions, reminding them to self-isolate until they had taken a negative lateral flow test – and that they should not enter any correctional facilities for a week.

After the chaos inside the international airport terminal, more chaos ensued outside. Rail workers have gone on strike, and as a result there are no airport express trains, a scrum for taxis and gridlock on the roads.

The industrial action was announced overnight by Transport for NSW.

Workers have been unable to reach the city centre, leaving it much quieter than a normal Monday morning. At one hotel, the Holiday Inn, guests were told the normal breakfast service was unavailable.

At the City Extra cafe on Sydney’s Circular Quay, manager Michelle Roche summed up the damage the international travel ban has done to her business.

“This used to be all packed with people just walking around,” she said, gesturing at an empty patio with views of the Harbour Bridge.

“People used to come here with their luggage for coffee straight off the planes. As you can there’s nobody here.

“It’s been so quiet – we miss them dreadfully.

“Very hard to find staff – we used to have a lot of students, people on [working] holiday visas. They were like our lifeline staff.

“We’re praying everybody comes for a holiday, and comes back down to the quay and enjoys this beautiful city.

“This is just day one, and we’re in the middle of a train strike, so today’s not started off good, but we’re hopeful.”

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