Relief for non-English speakers as Digital Passenger Declaration scrapped

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Entering Australia just got easier with international travellers no longer needing to declare their COVID-19 vaccination status or complete a Digital Passenger Declaration (DPD) following amendments to the Biosecurity Act 2015. 

The changes were announced on Sunday by Federal Home Affairs Minister, Clare O’Neil, and will come into effect from midnight AEST on Wednesday, July 6. 

Prior to July 6, anyone entering Australia needs to declare their vaccination status before arriving by registering themselves into the DPD Portal. Although unvaccinated Australian citizens are free to enter the country, most foreign travellers need to seek an exemption on limited grounds. 

But as of 12.01am on Wednesday morning, the DPD will no longer need to be completed and all visa holders can travel to Australia without needing a travel exemption.

Speaking on the issue, the Home Affairs Minister acknowledged the digital declaration had received negative feedback and conceded it “needs a lot more work to make it user friendly.”

What is the DPD? 

Introduced in February this year, the DPD replaced the Australian Travel Declaration – an interim measure created early in the pandemic to record COVID-19 vaccination status. 

The DPD required all passengers arriving by air into Australia to disclose their: contact, passport and flight details, travel history, COVID-19 vaccination status and quarantine information. 

It could be completed seven days before departure using the free mobile app or the online form. Proof of completion had to be shown to airline staff at check-in, along with proof of COVID-19 vaccination or valid medical exemption. 

Although it seemed straightforward, the DPD was riddled with deficiencies, causing confusion amongst travellers.

The range of information international travellers needed to input when completing their DPD prior to arriving in Australia.

The DPD Debacle

Speaking exclusively to The Greek Herald, Sydneysider Anthoula, and her husband Nick, said they are relieved with the changes. 

Just last month, the pair arranged to fly to Greece within 48 hours of Nick’s father’s death.

“Two days before our flight back to Australia, we checked in with our airline and received an email from them telling us to complete the DPD,” Anthoula said.

“We followed the prompts to the Department of Home Affairs website and downloaded the app onto our phones. The scan function wouldn’t work properly so we had to manually input our passport details before typing in our flight, vaccination and contact details.

“However, we were being logged out sporadically and the app kept crashing without saving our details, so we had to restart the process over and over again. It took us over two hours.”

The DPD was available for completion as an online form and on the app

Upon completing their DPDs, they were then tasked with needing to enter Nick’s 82-year-old mother into the portal.

“My mum can barely speak English and doesn’t have a smartphone let alone an email address or any digital proof of vaccination,” Nick said.

“The DPD can only be completed online and in English so we thought there would be a paper alternative or some other process available for people like my mum at the airport.” 

According to the Department of Home Affairs, paper-based declarations can be completed in extraordinary circumstances. However, according to Nick, this was never offered to them.

Athens International Airport check-in desks. Photo: Wikimedia commons

When they arrived at the check-in desk, Anthoula and Nick presented their passports, tickets and proof of vaccination for verification. When asked to show their completed DPDs, they were again faced with complications.

“We opened our apps, but couldn’t log in to show we had completed it. We tried resetting our passwords there and then but the app kept crashing. Airline staff told us to step out of the line, saying we were not going to fly without logging in,” Anthoula said.

“The same went for my mother-in-law, they refused to check her in without seeing her DPD on a phone and wouldn’t look at her paper proof of vaccination, saying it had to be digitised.” 

What would have ordinarily been a 10-minute process turned into a two-and-a-half-hour ordeal with Nick phoning his brother in Australia to set up an email address for his mum, retrieve SMS codes, create a digital proof of vaccination and complete her DPD, whilst Anthoula was resetting their logins. 

Mature couple seated at an airport. Photo: Freepik user rawpixel

“If we weren’t there, how would mum have gotten back into the country? To think mum would have been in an airport with no one to help her on the other end, that’s extremely stressful,” Nick said. 

The DPD app is available for download on the App Store for Apple users and the Google Play Store for Android users. 

With 1,030 reviews on the Google Play store, the app has an average star rating of 1.2 out of five. The majority of complaints surround its non-usability and its unreliable and challenging nature. 

One user dubbed it a “complete waste of time” and called for a “manual alternative”. 

A one-star review left by Google Play Store user Dee Darney for the DPD Australia App.

With the new Federal Government opting to remove the DPD requirement, the Home Affairs Minister said this will make returning home “much easier” and it is “great news for families coming home from school holidays.” 

Travellers must still comply with any remaining COVID-19 requirements of airlines, as well as other countries and states and territories such as mask-wearing and vaccination status.

Most passengers entering Australia are also still required to complete an incoming passenger card as part of their border clearance process. 

To stay up to date with the latest traveller advice, please visit smartraveller.gov.au

Silhouette of people walking inside an international airport terminal. Photo: David Prado

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