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Omicron variant reaches Australia, Hunt Says Australia Ready

The newly discovered Omicron COVID-19 variant has been confirmed in Sydney with two returned travellers testing positive for the strain.

Both people, who are fully vaccinated and were asymptomatic, are isolated in the state’s Special Health Accommodation after returning from southern Africa on Saturday, 27th of November.

The passengers were amongst 14 people from southern Africa who arrived on Qatar Airways QR908, Doha to Sydney.

The remaining 12 passengers from southern Africa are undertaking 14 days of hotel quarantine in the Special Health Accommodation.

Around 260 passengers and aircrew on the flight are considered close contacts and have been directed to isolate, according to NSW Health.

With the new variant brings new travel restrictions for people arriving from the southern Africa region.

Travellers arriving in NSW and Victoria from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini, Malawi, and Seychelles during the 14 day period before their arrival in NSW must enter hotel quarantine for 14 days, irrespective of their vaccination status.

All travellers who have been in any other overseas country during the 14 day period before their arrival in NSW and Victoria must travel directly to their place of residence or accommodation and isolate for 72 hours, pending further health advice.

Questioned if the government could go further than this initial list of nine restricted countries, Greg Hunt (featured image) said it could if necessary.

“Let me be absolutely clear. I said yesterday, if more actions are required, we will not hesitate. Today, we have taken those actions. Today, I’m saying, if the medical evidence shows that further actions are required, we will not hesitate to take them.

“And that may involve strengthening or expanding the restrictions. It may involve reducing the restrictions and the temporary measures which we’ve put in place.

“The world will learn a lot over the coming weeks. And what we’ve done is make sure that no person who has been in the nine southern African countries can enter Australia unless they’re Australian citizens, residents or dependents. And if they fall into that category, they must have 14 days supervised quarantine,” said Hunt.

Hunt also asked the government’s expert immunisation panel to review the time frame for COVID-19 booster shots in light of the new variant.

The current advice from The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation’s (ATAGI) is that a person receives a booster shot six months after their second dose.

“We will, as ever, allow them (ATAGI) to act independently and continue to follow their advice,” Mr Hunt said.

“But we’re prepared with supplies. We are already one of the earliest nations in the world, after Israel, to have a whole-of-nation booster program.

“If they recommend changes, we will follow those changes.”

Scott Morrison also expressed his concern for the new strain, however he has faith in the respective state departments and their handling of it.

“It moved from being a variant of investigation to a variant of concern within the space of 24 hours and as a result, late on Friday night and again early on Saturday morning, I convened with the Chief Medical Officer and the Health Minister and the Secretary of the Health Department and immediately put in place a set of actions that were implemented successfully yesterday.

“And I spoke both with the premiers of New South Wales and Victoria, and I support the measures that they are taking within their jurisdictions. We’ve taken measures in our jurisdiction and that was intended for the states to then follow through on the areas that fell within their responsibilities,” said Morrison.

Hit hard by the Omicron variant are companies expected to benefit from this year’s economic reopening.

AMC Entertainment, United Airlines and Carnival Corp were hammered from fears of a possibly vaccine resistant COVID strain emerging.

Travel and leisure stocks bore significant losses in the US, with carriers United, Delta Air and American Airlines losing between 8% and 10%.

Hotel chains Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton fell between 8% and 11%, while cruise operators Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian slumped about 10% each and theatre chain AMC sank 6.2%.

The new variant announcement has been met with other nations also placing restrictions on southern African countries.

Following confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the UK, Germany, and Italy, travel restrictions have been placed on the southern African nations by the UK, the US, Japan, Israel and the EU.

However, this was met with disappointment by South Africa’s Minister for Tourism, Lindiwe Sisulu.

“While this is most disappointing South Africa will continue working with policy makers in the UK, Japan, Israel and European Union to ensure that the best possible interventions are put in place,” she said.

“We remain open for business and tourism travel and we appreciate the continued support from various partners across the world and are confident that through the tourism recovery plan in place, we will reignite demand and once more be tourism strong.”


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