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Australia’s international border opening paused amid Omicron variant concerns

The federal government has deferred reopening international borders until 15 December 2021.

The decision has paused the plan to bring in roughly 200,000 eligible migrants and students into Australia from Wednesday.

The federal government released a statement last night after prime minister Scott Morrison met with a national security committee of top federal cabinet ministers, who reviewed the plan to pause ahead of a national cabinet meeting today.

Members of the national security committee include Morrison, deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, treasurer Josh Frydenberg, defence minister Peter Dutton, and foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne.

The statement released by the committee confirmed the decision to pause and also stated travellers from Japan and South Korea won’t be permitted until 15 December 2021.

This morning, ABC News reported that the government’s decision to pause the planned easing of border restrictions was done out of an “abundance of caution”, according to health minister, Greg Hunt, and is only temporary.

The number of Omicron variant cases in Australia grew to five yesterday with two further cases confirmed in fully vaccinated travellers who arrived in Sydney from South Africa, as reported by Sydney Morning Herald

The Omicron variant is now the dominant strain in South Africa, with cases detected in Europe, Asia and Australia, which has caused border closures around the world. 

So far, the strain appears to be mild, with the first two cases detected in Australia being asymptomatic. However, chief health officer professor, Paul Kelly, has warned there are too few global cases to be certain.

“Some reports out of South Africa are it’s mostly mild, other information we have is the hospitalisation rates are increasing. So we need to get further information there,” he said. 

The federal government has stopped flights from nine South African countries, and are enforcing quarantine requirements for anyone who recently entered Australia from the region. In addition, all international arrivals must self-isolate for 72 hours.

New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory are working with the federal government to decide whether the 72-hour timeframe should be extended. Hunt told 2GB radio: “We certainly wouldn’t rule out the fact that that period may be rolled over. And I think it’s important to provide that guidance.”

“My understanding is that they’re certainly considering that. They’re doing it in conjunction with Commonwealth officials,” he said.

Hunt has assured the public that Australia is prepared for variants. “We’re not just prepared in terms of our vaccination rates, but we’re prepared in terms of our hospitals. And what we’ll do is we’ll just continue to follow the medical advice” he said on Monday.

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

The national cabinet meeting will be held today at 4.30pm to discuss the evolving situation with the Omnicron variant. Hunt has said the national cabinet meeting is about ensuring “common understanding, common information, and common actions” between the states, territories and the federal government.

“But we have a clear direction – vaccinations up, progressively restrictions down. Those directions remain constant,” he said.

According to Sydney Morning Herald, Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has expressed concern about the number of international arrivals who were not in hotel quarantine and will be looking for answers in the meeting.

NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, warned Australia should avoid a “knee-jerk” reaction to the Omicron variant. “We need to open up to the world, we need to do so safely,” he said on Monday morning.

Vaccine experts are currently considering whether to shorten the interval between second and third doses, as sources report half a million Australians who are eligible have not received their booster shot.

Labor’s health spokesman, Mark Butler, has urged the government to boost vaccine numbers in areas that are behind, particularly Indigenous communities. “There are still pockets where people are not protected,” Butler said.


Featured Image: YouTube/ABC News (Australia)


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