Australia Reveals Plan To Reopen International Borders To Fully Vaccinated Citizens

The Queensland Premier says the plan to ease the state’s border restrictions next month is on track despite the new Covid variant, but there is one critical question she wants answers to.

Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon, shortly before the Australian government announced it “paused” its plan to ease Australia’s border restrictions, Annastacia Palaszczuk said she would attend a National Cabinet meeting on Tuesday for an update on the latest on Omicron in Australia.

“I’m interested to see the update about what this actually means for Australia,” she said.

“I am a bit worried about how many people are in Australia at the moment that are not in hotel quarantine, so I would like some answers on that tomorrow.”

In a post, she said Queensland’s mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine requirements was a “safeguard” for the state, but has expressed concerns for the rest of the country.

Tomorrow I'll attend National Cabinet for an update on the new variant Omicron 👇 #covid19pic.twitter.com/iFMOgLrRGj

— Annastacia Palaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP) November 29, 2021

Earlier, Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles confirmed the state is keeping a close eye on Omicron but “nothing has changed” as far as its plan to reopen next month.

Speaking to reporters from Brisbane this morning, Mr Miles said the state’s health officials were “monitoring” the situation.

“Nothing has changed, our people should be assured we are going to take a cautious approach,” he said.

“(The health officials will) monitor Omicron very closely and provide advice to us ... that’s kept Queenslanders safe so far.”

It comes as Queensland recorded another zero coronavirus day with five new cases reported in overseas arrivals.

Monday 29 November – coronavirus cases in Queensland:

No new locally acquired cases detected in Queensland overnight.

5 overseas acquired cases detected in hotel quarantine.#covid19pic.twitter.com/1UEqNe4jDS

— Annastacia Palaszczuk (@AnnastaciaMP) November 28, 2021

Premier Palaszczuk last week urged the federal government to work with her state after confusion around paying for PCR tests was cleared up.

“Now’s not the time to fight, now is the time to work together ... Let’s work together and work out a solution .. it’s just disappointing that people want to be political at the moment when all we want to do is keep Queenslanders safe,” she said.

The premier said she didn’t want anyone in her state to have coronavirus at Christmas, and said PCR tests were the best way to avoid that.

“The issue would be if someone came in without a PCR test and had the virus, it would spread like wildfire through the unvaccinated population of Queensland,” she said.

“I don‘t want to see the people of Queensland get Covid for Christmas. The federal government might, but I don’t.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Picture: Nigel Hallett
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Picture: Nigel Hallett

Australia ‘pausing plans’

In a statement on Monday night, prime minister Scott Morrison announced on the basis of medical advice provided by the Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kelly, the National Security Committee has taken the necessary and temporary decision to pause the next step to safely reopen Australia to international skilled and student cohorts, as well as humanitarian, working holiday maker and provisional family visa holders from 1 December until 15 December.

The reopening to travellers from Japan and the Republic of Korea will also be paused until 15 December.

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.

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 Australian traveller declaration forms detailing their vaccination status and confirming requirements to comply with state and territory public health requirements.

National security committee to meet to discuss Omicron

Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the national security committee would meet today to consider what steps Australia will take to prevent the spread of new Covid variant Omicron.

“Of course (Omicron) is concerning and that's why we're getting all the information we possibly can,” Mr Morrison told Sunrise.

“The cases that have presented ... are in quarantine and appropriate action is being taken by the NSW government in those matters.

“We moved very quickly on Saturday, this moved from a variance under investigation to a variant of concern within a very short period of time and we immediately put those extra controls in place on Saturday.

“The National Security committee will be meeting this afternoon to consider December 1 decisions that are pending for migrants and students so we will review all of the information this afternoon and this morning.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for calm. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for calm. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

HasOmicron made it to Australia?

The world is keeping a careful eye on Omicron, a new variant of concern first identified in South Africa less than a week ago.

Little is known about Omicron however health authorities have suggested the disease appears to be mild in most people it infects.

Despite that, health authorities and the Australian government are on high alert with travel restrictions imposed on arrivals from nine southern African countries.

Two confirmed cases of Omicron were taken to NSW’s Special Health Accommodation (SHA) facility over the weekend after they flew in on a Qatar Airways flight, with NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet saying there was a third possible case on Monday morning.

Fourteen days of quarantine has been imposed on everyone who was on the flight and NSW and Victoria have introduced a 72-hour quarantine for all international arrivals to give them time to understand the variant.

Other countries around the world have taken even stronger steps with Israel becoming the first country to reintroduce a ban on all foreign arrivals when it brought back its international border ban last night.

Two confirmed cases arrived on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha into Sydney over the weekend. Picture: Odd Andersen/AFP
Two confirmed cases arrived on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha into Sydney over the weekend. Picture: Odd Andersen/AFP

NSW premier: ‘It’s going to be a very bright summer’

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet confirmed the state was taking a “precautionary approach” to its handling of Omicron but the variant was not going to disrupt the state’s plan to keep living with Covid.

“We're having a national cabinet in relation to developments, I think, tomorrow, or later today and in addition to that, we’re working very closely with the Victorian Premier Dan Andrews,” Mr Perrottet told reporters this morning.

“Over the last 24 hours, we’ve had 141 people from those nine affected countries come in. There are two, possibly three, positive cases.

“Those 141 travellers on five flights over the last 24 hours are in our health quarantine facility.”

Mr Perrottet said the state’s timeline for staying open was not changing.

“We don't just need to learn to live alongside Covid, we need to learn to live alongside the variants as well and we're very confident, based on our high vaccination rates,” he said.

“The pandemic is not over but we need to continue to open up our state, open up our economy, get people back into work.

“There are many challenges in front of us, but I believe the key to success here has been our high vaccination rate, but also to remember that if you are eligible for a booster shot, please go out and get one ... We're gonna get through this. And it's gonna be a very bright summer.”

National Cabinet meeting also on the way

Mr Morrison also confirmed this morning that he had “advised the premiers and chief ministers that I'll be convening a meeting of the national cabinet either today or tomorrow”.

Despite the fears around Omicron, Mr Morrison reminded Australians it was not the first variant of concern to spread across the world.

“We have already had 13 other strains which have presented. This isn't the first of the new strains we have seen, and the evidence to date does not suggest it is a more severe form of the virus and issues of transmissibility and impact on vaccine, there is no evidence yet to suggest there are issues there,” he said.

“But should that information come forward, then obviously we will be considering that and moving very quickly as we already have on the information that has been available to us today.”

Hotel quarantine is back for some arrivals. Picture: NCA NewsWire / James Gourley
Hotel quarantine is back for some arrivals. Picture: NCA NewsWire / James Gourley

Australia has ‘bought time’ to deal with Omicron

Chief medical officer Dr Paul Kelly said the complete closure of international borders was not yet on the table, despite Israel completely shutting down.

“Most countries in the world at the moment are concentrating on that where we know that there's virus circulating in what could be large numbers and the other nations that we're looking at,” Dr Kelly told ABC News Breakfast. 

“I'll continue to give that best advice to the government that ultimately is a decision for the Federal Government and I've already spoken to the Prime Minister this morning and we've been talking several times over the weekend and I'll continue to give that advice.”

Dr Kelly said Australia had “bought time” by introducing a 72-hour quarantine for all international arrivals.

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“We're taking a risk-balanced approach at the moment and concentrating on those nine southern African countries. We have increased our surveillance at the border, and after the border, we're working very closely with our colleagues in New South Wales and Victoria, particularly, because they're the ones that have had quarantine-free travel, as well as in the ACT, as to what is the best approach,” he said.

“At the moment, we've bought time to get more information and to consider that balance, but there's always pros and cons for these sorts of decisions.”

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