News ‘Wise just to pause’: National cabinet to discuss Omicron concerns

‘Wise just to pause’: National cabinet to discuss Omicron concerns

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: AAP
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State and territory leaders are expected to discuss whether to reimpose border restrictions to combat the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant at a special national cabinet meeting about to get underway.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called an urgent national cabinet meeting for 4.30pm (AEDT), following confirmation of the Omicron variant in five travellers who recently arrived in Sydney and Darwin.

NSW Health has also confirmed a sixth likely case – a woman who spent several days in the community before her diagnosis.

State and territory leaders are expected to discuss how Australia should coordinate its response to the variant, including potential changes to quarantine, travel and testing requirements.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Morrison said he would urge premiers to avoid lockdowns and shutting borders to interstate travellers.

“What we are keen to do is to remain safely open,” he said.

“What we want to do is not have governments surging forward once again into people’s lives, but ensuring that governments are able to step back so that Australians can step forward both into Christmas and the New Year.

“We need to make calm decisions [and] not get spooked by this.”

Chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said internal restrictions, such as mask-wearing and public gathering limits, would also be on the agenda.

Australia has already shut its borders to nine southern African countries in response to the Omicron variant. NSW, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT have brought in new quarantine rules for international arrivals.

On Monday night, the federal government announced it would delay reopening Australia’s borders to skilled workers, international students and other visa holders by a fortnight, to give scientists time to gather more information on the new variant.

Health Minister Greg Hunt the decision was necessary based on medical advice.

“Our overwhelming view is that whilst it’s an emerging variant, it’s a manageable variant,” he said on Tuesday morning.

“The national plan is always under constant review at this point in time.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews and Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly on Tuesday.

Ahead of the national cabinet meeting, the NSW, Victorian and Queensland premiers expressed caution at shutting borders prematurely.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said his government would pursue “a proportionate and balanced response to the situation that’s in front of us”.

“Ultimately, we need to open up to the world [and] we need to do so safely,” he said.

“The responses should not be ‘Let’s shut down’.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is also urging patience, saying it is too early to know if the Omicron variant will affect her government’s plans to scrap quarantine for vaccinated domestic arrivals once it hits its 80 per cent vaccination target.

“We’re in a good position because we have mandatory hotel quarantine,” 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’d like some answers on that tomorrow.”

It comes as the Queensland government announced on Tuesday that it would mandate vaccinations for people who work in schools, early childhood centres, correctional centres, youth detention facilities and airports in line with similar requirements in NSW and Victoria.

Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews told the ABC it was “wise just to pause” to give scientists time to understand the transmissibility of Omicron.

“The early signs out of South Africa and other parts of the world is that this is much more infectious but presents mildly,” he said.

The South Australian government is also sticking with its border arrangements, despite the Australian Medical Association in SA calling for a blanket ban on all interstate and international travel.

SA last Tuesday opened to all vaccinated travellers, with some requirements for testing and quarantine.

On Tuesday, state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens said it was too early to determine the impact of Omicron, but warned people to “be flexible” with travel plans.

“I’m hopeful we can hold our position, so people can continue to travel,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is looking at whether to recommend booster COVID-19 shots sooner following moves in Britain to shorten the timeframe from six to three months.

Mr Hunt said the federal government was yet to receive advice recommending that Australia to do the same.

All five confirmed cases of the omicron variant in Australia are young, fully-vaccinated and some have previously been infected with COVID-19.
One – a woman in her 30s – spent some time in the community on the central coast.
NSW health authorities are investigating the case.

– with AAP