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Omicron: More tests for travellers, but no evidence vaccines less effective

Australia will continue to push ahead to a Christmas border reopening while more information is gathered about the Omicron variant and additional tests for International arrivals are introduced in NSW and VIC.

Australia will continue to push ahead to a Christmas border reopening while more information is gathered about the Omicron variant and additional tests for International arrivals are introduced in NSW and VIC.

PM Scott Morrison used Tuesday’s national cabinet to urge state and territory leaders to stick to their reopening plans, despite Omicron raising anxieties about the virus.

Australia will continue its path towards a Christmas reopening while health authorities gather more information about the new strain. 

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told the state and territory heads it would be up to two weeks before there was enough information to paint a clear picture about the variant’s threat.

But he said there was no evidence vaccines were less effective.

Mr Morrison stressed he is not “spooked” by Omicron, insisting the new COVID-19 strain would not put Australia back into lockdown.

“We’re not going back to lockdowns, none of us want that,” he said.

Additional tests for International arrivals


All international travellers arriving in NSW and Victoria will need to quarantine for 72 hours and take a COVID-19 test regardless of their vaccination status.

A second test must now be taken on day six after arriving in NSW and between days five and seven in Victoria as the states continue their cautious approach to dealing with the new Omicron variant.

All travellers entering NSW from eight southern African nations, or nine in the case of Victoria, will need to quarantine for 14 days.

Visa holders, who were set to be allowed into Australia on December 1, will now have to wait until December 15 to enter the country without an exemption.

The prime minister said a two-week pause on the next stage of Australia’s reopening plan was sensible in order for health experts to assess the risk posed by the new variant.

Omicron had also delayed travel bubble arrangements for citizens from Japan and South Korea.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is examining whether to recommend booster COVID-19 shots sooner in light of the variant.

They are currently recommended for six months after a second vaccine dose.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said Omicron would lead to new challenges in Australia.

“It’s very early days and the world is yet to have a complete understanding of it, we need to know more about it,” she told parliament.

“(The two-week pause) was not a decision the government took lightly…we took this decision based on the health advice.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt stressed the Omicron variant could be managed.

“All of this is done on the presumption that we will recommence from December 15, but medical advice will guide our decision making throughout,” he said.

Emirates Qantas
Sir Tim Clark (President, Emirates) and Alan Joyce (CEo Qantas)

Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airlines said a major hit to the peak December travel season from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus would cause “significant traumas” in the global aviation business.

He said Emirates is working on the basis the newly discovered variant can be dealt with effectively by vaccines but acknowledges the next few weeks will prove critical for the industry as scientists assess the risks.

“I would say probably by the end of December, we’ll have a much clearer position,” Clark said on Tuesday.

“But in that time, December is a very important month for the air travel business,” he added. 

“If that is lost, or the winter is lost to a lot of carriers, there will be significant traumas in the business, certainly the aviation business and the periphery.”

“It’s likely to arrest, inhibit, but not stall the uptick in demand that we’ve all had the benefit of in the last month or two,” Clark said of Omicron.

He noted, however, that it could also “go the other way”, with more draconian measures in response to a greater threat from the variant.

Clark said the airline’s decision to close down flights out of South Africa and a handful of surrounding countries was difficult, given strong demand for the December period.

However, he said bookings generally remained strong despite the reintroduction of measures in some European markets such as track and trace, quarantine and PCR testing.

“People haven’t made that decision to cancel or pull off, so we’re hoping that it doesn’t worsen, that the border procedures for re-entry are not so draconian that it prevents them from travelling at all,” he said.