Australia has paused its planned border reopening for the next cohort of foreign workers and students due to rising fears over the new Omicron Covid variant.
The pause will see Australia delay its border reopening by two weeks and push it back to December 15, 2021.
Earlier, four confirmed Omicron cases were identified in New South Wales, and one in the Northern Territory.
Due to the delayed lifting of border restrictions, Australian visa holders will have to apply for a travel exemption to enter the country.
Australia was expected to reopen its borders to skilled migrants, international students, family visa holders, working holidaymakers and humanitarian arrivals on December 1, 2021, as part of the phased reopening of international borders.
However, with rising concerns over the new Omicron variant of Covid-19, the Australian federal government decided to delay reopening its borders by two weeks and gather more information on the new strain.
In an emergency meeting on Monday, November 29, Australia’s National Security Committee – on medical advice provided by Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly – decided that the temporary decision to pause the border reopening was necessary to safely resume international travel to and from Australia.
As part of the border restrictions, Australians who have been to any country with confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the past 14 days must enter hotel quarantine for 14 days, irrespective of their vaccination status.
All international travellers arriving in Australia must also have a negative PCR test and complete Australian traveller declaration forms, in which they must detail their vaccination status.
The countries red-listed by Australia due to confirmed Omicron cases include South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho and Eswatini. Seychelles, which was also on the red list initially, has since been cleared.
In a statement, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the temporary pause to the border reopening process will ensure that Australia obtains more information to better understand the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
He also said that delaying the border reopening would allow Australia to learn more about the Omicron variant’s level of transmission, range of illness, generation of symptoms, and the vaccine efficacy.
Mr Morrison also explained that only fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members, green lane travelers from New Zealand and Singapore, and limited exceptions will be allowed entry to Australia.