SYDNEY—A Qantas flight was en route to Western Australia last month when the captain relayed bad news: A Covid-19 case in South Australia, the first community infection in seven months, had led authorities to shut the state border at their destination.
Some passengers broke into tears. The border had reopened only 48 hours earlier, after closing at the outset of the pandemic. This was one of the first flights to make the trip.
Passengers were told they would either have to pay for a return flight to South Australia or commit to a 14-day quarantine on arrival in the city of Perth.
Health officials and lawmakers in Australia say they are convinced that the country’s success in suppressing the coronavirus owes much to a series of border controls that are among the strictest in the Western world, although it has come at a cost to businesses.
Now, as Australia and other governments prepare to roll out vaccines and reopen their economies, deciding when to let people travel freely is proving difficult.