Australia’s international border will open to overseas students and some migrants on 15 December after being delayed by two weeks due to fears over Omicron.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the decision had been rubber-stamped over the weekend after consultation with the Prime Minister, National Cabinet and Chief Medical Officer.
It means that from Wednesday, international students and tourists from Japan and South Korea will be able to enter the country, alongside non-residents holding certain working visas. However, Queensland is still asking arrivals to home quarantine for two weeks, and NSW and Victoria for 72 hours.
It follows mixed reactions to the Omicron variant worldwide. Minister Hunt has said “the advice continues to be that all of our vaccines provide strong, clear protection against serious illness, hospitalisation and loss of life”, mirroring similar comments by the US’ pandemic adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci.
The UK, however, has asked Brits to work from home, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning a “tidal wave” of Omicron cases is on the way.
He has pledged to give all adults a booster jab by the end of the month, a process that would see almost a million vaccinated a day and require the support of the army.
“We’ve already seen hospitalisations doubling in a week in South Africa and we have patients with Omicron in hospital here in the UK right now,” said Johnson.
New flying restrictions introduced in Australia in late November saw arrivals from nine countries, including South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, The Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique forced to enter a 14-day hotel quarantine. Flights from these countries into Australia were also temporarily suspended.
Additionally, all overseas arrivals are now required to declare a list of all the countries that they have visited within the last 14 days prior to arrival in Australia, on top of existing entry requirements, which include proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test result.
The changes came just weeks after NSW, Victoria and the ACT opened up their borders for fully vaccinated overseas arrivals, with no quarantine required.
The new variant, dubbed Omicron, originated in South Africa and was deemed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on 26 November.
The emergence of the Omicron variant has also brought into question whether or not the states will reopen their domestic borders as planned.