November 29, 2021 | By Bronwen Largier
Australia’s Federal Government has adjusted the country’s international border settings in the wake of the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant by South Africa, with governments in New South Wales and Victoria also reintroducing limited quarantine conditions.
Two cases of the new strain called Omicron have already been identified in two returned travellers who landed in Sydney on Saturday evening. Another positive case of COVID-19 identified in the Northern Territory is being sequenced to determine whether it is also the new variant.
The Federal Government has banned entry for all travellers – apart from returning Australian citizens and permanent residents and their immediate families, including parents – who have been in nine southern African countries – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique – within the last 14 days.
Returning Australians and their families who have been in any of these nine countries in the two weeks prior to their arrival in Australia are required to undertake two weeks of hotel quarantine upon arrival.
The Federal Government has also banned flights from all nine countries for two weeks.
Meanwhile, in NSW and Victoria, where quarantine-free arrangements have been in place since November 1 for fully vaccinated international arrivals, state governments have both introduced a 72-hour self-isolation period for those international arrivals.
In NSW, the requirement to isolate for 72 hours is accompanied by the phrase “pending further health advice” foreshadowing the possibility that the government could extend that period.
NSW has also introduced a requirement for all international flight crew to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival into Australia or until their next flight departs.
Due to its high number of mutations, there are concerns the new variant has higher transmissibility, could lead to greater reinfection and that current vaccines may not work as well against it, but these worries have yet to be verified.
The makers of the Pfizer vaccine say they believe they can adapt their vaccine to the new variant in 100 days.
Overseas, outside of Africa, cases of the Omicron variant have already been found in the UK, the Netherlands, Israel, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Canada and Hong Kong.
Israel has banned entry of all foreign nationals into the country, while Morocco is suspending all international flights for two weeks. Switzerland has introduced quarantine requirements for several countries outside of Africa including Britain, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.
The head of the World Health Organisation in Africa has urged nation’s to keep their borders open.
Back in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said when the National Cabinet group of state leaders met in the next few days it would discuss how to deal with the new variant.