Another politician has avoided promising domestic borders won’t remain unchanged — as the country grapples with the Omicron variant.
West Australian premier Mark McGowan says it is “too early” to be considering any drastic changes to the state’s border reopening plan, despite the new Omicron Covid variant landing on our shores.
After 20 months of border closures and Covid chaos, Australians were promised this year would be different – but new variant Omicron is threatening to derail everything yet again.
With less than a month to go until Christmas, and 17 days until the Queensland border is scheduled to reopen, road maps have been thrown into disarray.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last night announced a 14-day pause to the next step of safely reopening the country’s borders, which was due to take place on December 1. Now Aussies hoping to be reunited with family interstate for Christmas are anxiously waiting to see what will happen with state borders.
Mr McGowan said the state will hit 80 per cent full vaccination by the end of next week, meaning the reopening for late January or early February will be set shortly after.
But with the development of the Omicron variant around the world, and five cases already identified in Australia, Mr McGowan dodged questions around whether there would be changes to his state’s reopening plan.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with Omicron,” McGowan said on Monday.
“Omicron didn’t exist until three days ago.
“I’m having a National Cabinet meeting tomorrow with the prime minister and the other premiers and we’ll just see what they have to say,” McGowan said.“It may well be that Omicron spreads more rapidly but is not any more lethal, and therefore we can proceed as planned.”
Mr McGowan, who overnight listed South Australia as ‘low risk’ — meaning that because the neighbouring state has seen a small spike in cases, visitors who have landed on or after 23 November will be required to self isolate for 14 days and be tested “immediately” and at day 12.
Mr McGowan said that while the measure with SA is taking an “abundance of caution” he is confident his state will achieve its target of 90 per cent of people aged 12 and over becoming fully vaccinated.
Unclear if Australia’s domestic borders will change amid Omicron varient
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews artfully dodged questions about Christmas domestic borders when asked specifically if Australians should be worried about their summer holidays on ABC TV this morning, .
“I think we have all got to be conscious as we continue to live and work in the Covid environment that things may happen from time to time which will mean a particular course of action needs to be taken,” she said.
“We’ve seen an example of that in relation to the Omicron variant, where the federal government has taken the decision to pause the reopening of our borders for 14 days. The national plan made it very clear that at times, there would be decisions that would need to be taken, that might change a number of settings.
“[State borders closures are] a matter for the state and territory governments to determine. We have been very keen federally to focus on the international borders, because that’s our key responsibility.
“It has been a very measured response from everyone here in Australia. And that’s very positive.”
Aussie border plan delayed
Just 48 hours before Australia was due to reopen borders to international skilled and student cohorts, as well as humanitarian, working holiday maker and provisional family visa holders, Scott Morrison announced on the basis of medical advice provided by the Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kelly, the National Security Committee was forced to make the snap decision to delay Australia’s reopening from December 1 to December 15.
A major blow to the nation’s Covid recovery road map, the decision means thousands of skilled workers, students, and refugees will be essentially locked out from entry for another two weeks.
Minister Andrews said on Tuesday the snap closure was a necessary measure — and until Australia can gather the information needed to better understand the Omicron variant — the border shutdown could last even longer.
“We took the health advice from our chief medical officer last night … We listened very carefully to what Paul Kelly had to say,” Minster Andrews told ABC Breakfast.
“The decision that was taken was that we would need to pause [reopening to international students and skilled workers]. The reason that we did that is because based on the health advice, more time was needed to make sure that we had all the relevant information in relation to that variant.”
Minster Andrews said the good news for the new date of December 15 is the high vaccination rate across the country, with over 86 per cent of eligible Australians now double vaccinated.
Australians scrambling to return home for Christmas
In response to the snap border closure, Australian residents fear the reintroduction of 14 days hotel or even home quarantine may return for NSW and Victoria. Currently, each state has introduced 72 hours of home isolation for returning residents as a measure to limit the variant entering Australian shores.
While the quarantine measures have not yet changed for returning vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents — Minister Andrews said a change in isolation isn’t off the cards and is a decision ultimately down to state and territory leaders.
“Quarantine is going to continue to be a matter for state and territory governments to take,” she explained.
“There are no changes to some states, other states have already changed their position in relation to international arrivals and quarantine. They are matters for the states.
“What I can say is from the federal government’s point of view, we are very determined to do all we can to reopen our borders, but we’ll do that in a safe manner. At this stage it’s a 14-day pause on arrivals scheduled to come in from 1 December for skilled workers, international students, and other subclasses that we had identified through the home affairs website.
“We are very, very keen to make sure that our borders are reopened as soon as possible.”
Concerns state border closures will return for Christmas
While the primary focus on border closures has been on the international front, there are concerns how the development of the Omicron variant could throw domestic travel plans into chaos.
The NSW and Queensland governments both reassured residents they intend to push ahead with their respective road maps, but have warned they will not hesitate to reimpose restrictions if necessary.
Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon, shortly before the Australian government announced it “paused” its plan to ease Australia’s border restrictions, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said 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.
“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.”
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the state will not be making a “knee-jerk reaction” in response to the new variant in Sydney.
“We need to have a proportionate and balanced response to the situation that’s in front of us,” Mr Perrottet said.
“The responses should not be ‘’let’s shut down’’.”
NSW is scheduled to lift mask mandates, QR code check ins, and restrictions for the unvaccinated from December 15. At this stage, that date still stands for the state.