By Staff Writer
Australia is pushing back its planned border re-opening for international skilled and student cohorts, humanitarian, working holidaymaker and provisional family visa holders amid uncertainty about the Omicron variant.
On Monday, the Australian Government decided to delay the opening date from December 1 to December 15. The opening of a travel corridor with Japan and South Korea is also deferred until mid-December
The decision comes as multiple countries, including Australia, close their borders to travellers from up to nine southern African countries.
Except for Australian citizens and permanent residents, Australia’s borders are closed to inbound passengers from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi and Mozambique. Seychelles was removed from the no-fly list on Monday.
Australian citizens and permanent residents who’ve passed through any hotspot countries within the past 14 days will need to go into quarantine for 14 days after arriving in Australia.
“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,” says an Australian Government statement.
“Australia’s border is already closed to travellers except for 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.”
Travel corridors from Singapore and New Zealand remain open, but all arrivals into Sydney and Melbourne must undergo three days of self-isolation after landing.
Arrival ports in other Australian states maintain longstanding limits on arrival numbers and longer quarantine periods, regardless of citizenship status or where travel originated.
At the time of publication, five confirmed Omicron cases have been reported in Australia (four in New South Wales and one in the Northern Territory). Outside southern Africa, cases have been reported in multiple countries across North America, Asia, and Europe.
While uncertainty continues over Omicron’s level of transmission, resistance to vaccines and range of illness, countries worldwide are temporarily closing their borders to travellers from southern Africa.
Several countries are closing their borders altogether. Overnight, Japan joined Israel in closing its borders to all non-citizens, while Morocco has banned all incoming flights for two weeks.
“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” said the World Health Organisation in a statement.
“Increasing cases, regardless of a change in severity, may pose overwhelming demands on health care systems and may lead to increased morbidity and mortality.”
Australia does not have direct air links with any African countries. But airlines like Qatar Airways and Emirates offered connecting flights via their Gulf hubs. Many European and US-based airlines also offer flights into southern Africa.
The first two Omicron cases reported in New South Wales arrived on a Qatar Airways flight after connecting in Doha.
Most airlines, including Qatar Airways and Emirates, have since suspended flights from their southern African ports.
On Tuesday, the Australian Prime Minister is holding a National Cabinet meeting to discuss the Omicron variant and Australia’s evolving response.