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Australia to pause next phase of border reopening amid Omicron fears


An emergency meeting of the National Security Committee tonight decided the “necessary and temporary decision to pause the next step to safely reopen Australia”.

The country was expected to reopen to international skilled and student cohorts, as well as humanitarian, working holiday maker and provisional family visa holders from December 1.

A plane arrives at Sydney Airport.
Australia will pause the next phase of its reopening plan in light of the Omicron strain. (AP)

This has now been pushed back to December 15.

The reopening to travellers from Japan and the Republic of Korea will also be paused until December 15.

“The temporary pause will ensure Australia can gather the information we need to better understand the Omicron variant, including the efficacy of the vaccine, the range of illness, including if it may generate more mild symptoms, and the level of transmission,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement with other leaders tonight.

“Australia’s border is already closed to travellers except fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and immediate family, as well as fully vaccinated green lane travellers from New Zealand and Singapore and limited exemptions.”

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said his advice was to halt plans and push them back to December 15. (Alex Ellinghausen)

Border restrictions introduced yesterday mean any Australians who have been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and Malawi, in the past 14 days must enter hotel quarantine for 14 days, irrespective of their vaccination status.

Seychelles has now been removed from this list.

All arrivals to Australia also require a negative PCR test and to complete Australian traveller declaration forms detailing their vaccination status and confirming requirements to comply with state and territory public health requirements.

All international arrivals, inclduing Australian citizens, permanent residents and immediate family members must quarantine for 72 hours if they land in NSW, Victoria or travel to the ACT. Other quarantine arrangements are in place in different states and the Northern territory.

National Cabinet is set tomorrow to discuss the evolving issue.

Passengers arrive early morning at Sydney Airport amid the new rules.
Passengers arrive early morning at Sydney Airport amid the new rules. (AP)

What measures are in place in Australia

On Saturday, the Australian Government announced the following measures:

  1. Effective immediately, anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident of Australia, or their immediate family including parents of citizens, and who have been in African countries where the Omicron variant has been detected and spread – within the past 14 days – will not be able to enter Australia. The countries are: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi and Mozambique.
  2. Australian citizens and permanent residents, immediate family members including parents arriving from these countries will need to go into immediate supervised quarantine for 14 days subject to jurisdictional arrangements.
  3. Anyone who has already arrived in Australia and who has been in any of the eight countries within the past 14 days must immediately isolate themselves and get tested for COVID-19 and follow jurisdictional quarantine requirements which will include quarantine for 14 days from the time of departure from southern Africa.
  4. These restrictions also apply to people, for instance international students and skilled migrants, arriving from the safe travel zones we have established with New Zealand and Singapore who have been in any of the eight countries within the past 14 days.

Australians told to ‘stay calm’

Speaking to Today this morning, Mr Morrison said it was important to “stay calm”.

“It’s obviously a variant of concern. It’s not first one we’ve had,” Mr Morrison told Today.

He said the fight against COVID-19 was no longer about case numbers but about the severity of the illness and how the health system managed it.

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Mr Morrison said the government was not ruling out further restrictions on international travel.

“We will make decisions based on the best information,” Mr Morrison said.

Booster shots being reviewed

“We will not hesitate to take additional steps if the medical evidence is that more are required,” he said.

The Federal Government has been in touch with Pfizer and Moderna about Omicron and the vaccines, he added.

The Pfizer vaccine could be approved for children under the age of 12 by Christmas as Australia ramps up efforts to protect more people from COVID-19.
Pfizer and Moderna are prepared to tweak their vaccines if needed. (Diego Puletto/Getty)

Professor Kelly said Pfizer and Moderna “can move quickly” if a new vaccine to counter Omicron is needed, but there is no indication that was required right now.

“At the moment, we have no definite evidence, either clinical or laboratory or at the population level, that the vaccines are less effective against this virus,” he said.

“We have no evidence of that.”

Pfizer and Moderna were already gearing up to tweak vaccines, he said.



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