Australia's Victoria state removed entry restrictions to citizens of neighbouring New South Wales on Friday, allowing almost blanket reciprocal travel between the country's two biggest states ahead of the busy Christmas period.
Travel between the pair, home to more than half Australia's 25 million population, has been severely disrupted for months because of an outbreak of Delta variant-fuelled COVID-19 cases.
"Victoria and NSW have been through so much over the last few months, and we're pleased that more families will now be able to reunite just in time for Christmas and the holiday season," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement late on Thursday.
Travel company Flight Centre said "open borders between Australia's economic powerhouses" will be a major boost for hotels, airlines and other tourism businesses as flights resume between Sydney and Melbourne, one of the busiest domestic routes in the world before the pandemic.
Victoria on Friday downgraded all virus hotspots in its neighbour to safe for the first time in months, and also permitted unvaccinated NSW citizens to enter without quarantine. Victoria had already opened up entry for fully vaccinated New South Wales residents without quarantine last month, after closing its border in July.
New South Wales, which had allowed entry throughout the crisis to vaccinated Victorians provided they complete a two-week quarantine, earlier this week dropped the quarantine requirement. However, it remains closed to any unvaccinated travellers aged above 16 from its neighbour.
Adult double-dose vaccination rates have neared 90 per cent in New South Wales and 83 per cent in Victoria.
Both states continue to report cases as they shift to a strategy of living with the virus on the back of the high vaccination rates.
Victoria reported 1,343 cases on Friday, while New South Wales reported 249. Australia has reported a total of about 177,000 cases and 1,794 deaths, far lower than many other comparable countries.