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

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

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

Explorer’s return to full service will coincide with that of Ponant’s Lapérouse, which will enter service between Darwin and Broome on April 28, joining local operators in time for the Kimberley cruise season.

Peak body Cruise Lines International Association Australia says it is engaged in a “carefully managed resumption of operations” as cruise liners begin to return to Australia. Photography: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

NSW, Victoria and Queensland have set out testing and vaccination requirements for passengers and crew ahead of returning ships.

However, Tasmania is still considering whether such a move is safe for the island state.

Peak body Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia says lifting the ban will lead to “a carefully managed resumption of operations” in a sector that previously supported more than 18,000 jobs.

CLIA Australasia chief executive Joel Katz said more than a million Australians a year took an ocean cruise before the pandemic.

With the Harbor Bridge in the background, the Pacific Explorer makes its way to dock at the Overseas Passenger Terminal on Sydney Harbor
The Pacific Explorer has a capacity of nearly 2,000 passengers and arrived in Sydney on Monday morning. Photograph: Paul Crock/AFP/Getty Images

“We now have the opportunity to return to sailing and revive an industry that was worth over $5 billion a year to the Australian economy,” he said.

“While no executive is immune to Covid-19, new cruise industry protocols provide one of the highest possible levels of prevention, detection and mitigation.”

The move comes despite Covid-19 infections remaining high.

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

Pacific Explorer arriving in Sydney Harbor
More than a million Australians a year took an ocean cruise before the pandemic, according to Cruise Lines’ Joel Katz. Photography: James D Morgan/Getty Images for P&O Cruises

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

Labor Home Affairs spokeswoman 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 from a catchment in 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 concern.

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