Despite the global spread of the Omicron variant, Australia will proceed with its plan to welcome back fully vaccinated international students and skilled worker visa holders; humanitarian, working holiday, and provisional family visa holders; and tourists from Japan and South Korea on December 15th.
The borders were scheduled to open on December 1st for these travellers, but the date was postponed after news of the Omicron variant spread and many governments imposed new border restrictions.
Speaking to the press, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said, “That reopening is scheduled – we will be going ahead in consultation with the prime minister, the National Cabinet discussion, and the advice from the chief medical officer.”
The decision to open and welcome people from around the world is based on Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly's belief that Omicron is milder than other COVID variants. In a press conference, Mr Kelly stated that international evidence is "clearly showing signs of being milder...and that all of the vaccines continue to provide very clear coverage against serious illness, hospitalisation, and loss of life.", he went on.
“As a variant, it may well be milder. And that could turn out, as many international sources have indicated, to be a quietly positive development for the world.”
Others are hesitant, pointing out that Omicron is rather moderate in South Africa. Because of the high percentage of South Africans who have either had COVID or have been vaccinated, they have better general immunity and are less likely to contract infections. The population of South Africa is also relatively young, which is correlated with lesser hospitalization rates.
The evidence for how concerned we should be about Omicron is still being gathered. Nonetheless, the December 15 border opening plan appears to be tied to a government change from extreme caution to cautious optimism.
In an interview, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated,
“Our plan is to keep moving forward, not to go back. We’re not looking in the rear vision mirror, we’re not going back to what Australians have had to go through. We’re going to go forward and we’re going to live with this virus. And the reason we can do that is because of the decisions we’ve taken, the achievements that have been made in the vaccination programme, the strength of our economy, the resilience of our people.”
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan announced yesterday that from midnight on February 5, 2022, both Australians from other states and international visitors will be able to enter the state without being quarantined.
On December 6, a planned pilot project to bring in approximately 250 international students from 15 countries, including Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, China, and Canada, to New South Wales (Sydney), with another flight scheduled to arrive on December 24.