The federal government has decided to “pause” its plan to reopen the nation’s borders to visa holders from December 1, delaying the watershed immigration shift for two weeks until December 15. The postponement has been provoked by the emergence of the Omicron variant, a highly mutated but as yet not fully understood strain of the Covid-19 virus. Two confirmed cases of Omicron have already been identified in Sydney, although both cases were asymptomatic and in quarantine.
The prime minister made the decision to alter the planned reopening of Australia’s international borders following an emergency meeting with the national security committee.
“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,” a statement from a federal spokesperson read.
Australia has already suspended entry to foreign arrivals from nine southern African countries, although Australian citizens and residents arriving from these countries will be allowed to enter, albeit requiring supervised quarantine for 14 days.
Prime minister Scott Morrison said: “Australia has a proven record of dealing with Covid. We have one of the lowest fatality rates, highest vaccination rates and strongest economies in the world. We will continue to take sensible and responsive evidence-based action, led by medical experts. This will ensure we can open safely, and stay open as we learn to live with the virus.”