'No guarantees' amid delays to Australia's border reopening

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  • Greg Hunt
    Australian politician

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt isn't making any guarantees Australia will reopen its border to international students and visa holders in mid-December.

The emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant sparked a two-week delay on Australia's long-awaited international reopening.

"I'm certainly not making any guarantees," Mr Hunt told Sky News on Friday when asked if the pause on international arrivals would definitely end after December 15.

"It's our intention at the end of that period, subject to the science and medical advice, to return to the previous settings.

"It will depend on the international evidence."

Australia's international reopening has been paused. Source: AAP
Australia's international reopening has been paused. Source: AAP

Speaking at a press conference alongside the country's Chief Health Officer, Paul Kelly, this morning, Mr Hunt said more data on the variant's transmissibility and potential response to vaccines is key. 

The outgoing federal health minister dismissed criticism of the Australian government only imposing flight bans on African countries despite the variant popping up around the world.  

Could travel restrictions be extended? 

When asked if travel bans could be extended to countries like the UK where Omicrom cases have also emerged, Mr Hunt said the government would not hesitate to do what was required to keep Australians safe. 

"Our approach, from the very day we closed the border, with China, on the 1 February 2020, has been to follow the medical advice, and to take those difficult decisions," he told reporters.

"If the medical advice changes, then we will not hesitate to take it," he said of the possibility of more travel bans.

"It has been a hallmark of our approach, to be fearless in our response. These can be difficult decisions. Right now until December 15, we have the current restrictions in place, that is allowing the world to analyse the Omicron variant."

Minister for Health Greg Hunt says there are no guarantees as the world waits for more Omicron data. Source: Getty
Minister for Health Greg Hunt says there are no guarantees as the world waits for more Omicron data. Source: Getty

'No evidence' yet Omicron escapes vaccine response

Given the very low levels of vaccination in Africa, where the Omicron variant was first discovered, data pertaining to vaccine efficacy against the strain will need to come from other countries, Mr Kelly admitted. 

There is "no evidence" yet the current Covid vaccines don't work against Omicron, he added.

"As far as we know, the vaccine works against this new virus."

World leaders will be desperately hoping that doesn't change with the strain expected to spread rapidly around the world. 

"I suspect within the next few months, Omicron will be the new virus in the world," Mr Kelly said. 

Moderna boss Stephane Bancel warned this week that current vaccines might not be as effective against Omicron but manufacturers are already working to make tweaks to their vaccines if necessary.

On Friday, NSW recorded its highest number of new daily Covid-19 cases in six weeks, with the number of confirmed cases of the Omicron variant also climbing to eight.

NSW Health reported 337 cases of the coronavirus in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday - the highest since October 22.

Victoria, meanwhile, recorded 1,188 new Covid cases and a further 11 deaths. 

The health department confirmed on Friday the state is now managing 12,913 active cases.

with AAP

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