Re-opening of Australian borders delayed by at least two weeks

With the good news about the further easing of travel restrictions still fresh in our minds, a disappointing announcement has now followed. The Australian government has announced that it will pause the easing of restrictions from 1 December to 15 December.

Concerns about the Omicron variant of COVID-19

The reason for the pause of the easing of border restrictions is the concerns about the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The advice comes from the Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kelly. Based on this advice, the necessary and temporary decision has been taken to postpone the next step towards the safe reopening of Australia. This applies to all previously announced visa holders, as well as travellers from Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Pausing the relaxation will allow Australia to gather the necessary information to better understand the new Omicron variant. This includes the efficacy of vaccines and the range of illnesses, but also the degree of transmission and associated symptoms.

What next?

The Prime Minister has called a meeting with Cabinet tomorrow, 30 November, to discuss the Omicron variant and how Australia should respond. He indicated that with a 92.3% vaccination rate – one of the highest rates in the world – Australia is in a strong position to deal with the virus and its challenges. The Prime Minister has therefore indicated that they will continue to take evidence-based measures under the guidance of medical experts. This, he said, will lead to them being able to open Australia safely and keep it open while learning to live with the virus.

Important measures to prevent the spread

No flights are currently scheduled from the eight African countries where the Omicron variant has been detected and has spread. These African countries include South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi and Mozambique.

Last Saturday, the Australian Government announced the following measures. These remain in force until 15 December:

  • With immediate effect, anyone who is not an Australian citizen or permanent resident, or their immediate family including parents, and has been in one of the eight African countries in the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia;
  • Australian citizens, permanent residents and close family members returning to Australia from these countries must undergo supervised quarantine. This is for 14 days, subject to jurisdictional arrangements;
  • Anyone who has already arrived in Australia and has been in one of the eight countries in the last 14 days must immediately isolate themselves and be tested. They must also follow the quarantine regulations of the jurisdiction. The quarantine is for 14 days from the time of departure from Southern Africa.
  • These restrictions also apply to people, for example, international students and skilled migrants arriving from a safe travel zone (New Zealand and Singapore), who have been in one of the eight countries within the last 14 days.