Sydney Harbor lights up as first cruise ship returns since March 2020 | Tourism (Australia)

P&O Australia’s cruise ship Pacific Explorer is the first to return to Australia since a ban triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020.

The $400 million liner, with a capacity of nearly 2,000 passengers, arrived in Sydney on Monday morning. The ABC showed the ship surrounded by tugboats, with a huge banner on the bow that read “We’re home”.

Explorer’s return to full service coincides with Ponant’s Le Lapérouse, which will commence operations between Darwin and Broome on April 28, joining local operators in time for the Kimberley cruise season.

NSW, Victoria and Queensland have laid out testing and vaccination requirements for passengers and crew in preparation for the ships’ return.

The umbrella organization Cruise Lines International Association Australia says they are involved in a “carefully managed resumption of operations” as cruise lines begin to return to Australia. Photo Credit: James D Morgan/Getty Images for P&O Cruises

However, Tasmania is still evaluating whether such a move is safe for the island nation.

Peak Body Cruise Lines International Association Australia says the lifting of the ban will result in a “carefully managed resumption of operations” in a sector that has previously supported more than 18,000 jobs.

Cruise Lines Australasian chief executive Joel Katz said more than a million Australians took an ocean cruise a year before the pandemic.

“We now have an opportunity to return to sailing and revitalize an industry that has been worth more than $5 billion annually to the Australian economy,” he said.

“While no environment is immune from Covid-19, the cruise industry’s new protocols offer the highest possible level of prevention, detection and mitigation.”

The move takes place despite persistently high levels of Covid-19 infections.

More than 32,000 new cases were reported across the country on Sunday, along with 17 virus-related deaths, although seven of the eight cases announced by officials in Western Australia were historic.

Meanwhile, Labor frontbencher Chris Bowen is in isolation after positive tests. “I was looking forward to a few days of campaigning in the Queensland and Brisbane region but it’s not to be,” he tweeted on Saturday.

Labor Interior Speaker Kristina Keneally and Home Secretary Karen Andrews contracted the virus last week.

Elsewhere, Health Victoria is monitoring the new BA.4 or BA.5 omicron variant after samples were confirmed in a catchment near Tullamarine, north of Melbourne.

The subvariant has recently been detected in a small number of cases in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Denmark, the UK and Germany, but is not considered a cause for alarm.

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