The new Covid variant has prompted the federal government to delay reopening Australia’s borders to international students and other visa holders.
Authorities on Sunday reported two returned travellers had tested positive for the Omicron strain active in southern African nations upon their arrival in Sydney – the first known cases of the variant in Australia.
Other cases have since been confirmed.
Late on Monday, the Scott Morrison-chaired National Security Committee announced the plan to reopen borders to international skilled and student cohorts, as well as humanitarian, working holiday maker and provisional family visa holders on Wednesday had been put off until December 15.
The reopening to travellers from Japan and the Republic of Korea will also be paused until then.
The committee said the decision was based on advice provided by Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly, describing the move as “necessary and temporary”.
“The temporary pause will ensure Australia can gather the information we need to better understand the Omicron variant, including the efficacy of the vaccine, the range of illness, including if it may generate more mild symptoms, and the level of transmission,” it said in a statement.
“Australia’s border is already closed to travellers except fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and immediate family, as well as fully vaccinated green lane travellers from New Zealand and Singapore and limited exemptions.
“All arrivals to Australia also require a negative PCR test and to complete traveller declaration forms detailing their vaccination status and confirming requirements to comply with state and territory health orders.”
On Saturday, the federal government announced the border had immediately slammed shut anyone who was not a citizen or permanent resident of Australia, or their immediate family including parents of citizens, and who had been in African countries where the variant had been detected and spread within the past 14 days.
The countries are: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi and Mozambique.