Article by: Hari Yellina (Orchard Tech)
According to sources, Australia said it would move ahead with the next stage of its border reopening, deeming it has sufficient defences to manage outbreaks of Covid-19 even as the Omicron variant prompts leaders elsewhere to tighten restrictions. Starting Wednesday, international students, skilled migrants and people who hold working-holiday visas will be able to travel to and from Australia freely if they are vaccinated. Vaccinated citizens and permanent residents were allowed to travel freely starting in November. Australia had postponed this phase of its border reopening by two weeks due to concerns about the Omicron variant, which scientists say is more contagious and could lower the effectiveness of vaccines. However, the decision to move ahead offers a sign that Omicron, which sent global stock markets tumbling when it was first identified, may not be as disruptive as feared.
Tourists are still mostly barred from Australia, although visitors from Japan and South Korea will be allowed in from Wednesday. Travellers from New Zealand and Singapore had earlier been permitted to visit. Australia is loosening restrictions as much of the world is tightening theirs because of Omicron. Countries in Europe, such as the Netherlands and Austria, reintroduced full or partial lockdowns and U.K. authorities recently issued a work-from-home order. Japan and Israel have barred almost all foreign visitors. Also, California just reinstituted a mask mandate for indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.
Australia has had relatively few coronavirus cases and deaths during the pandemic, partly due to strict travel restrictions and lockdowns. Citizens were barred from leaving the country for much of the pandemic unless granted a rare exemption, and those returning had to quarantine in government-run facilities for two weeks. Australia, which has about 26 million people, has had about 232,000 Covid-19 cases and 2,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. It has recorded dozens of Omicron cases in recent days. The U.S., with around 330 million people, has had about 50 million Covid-19 cases and 797,000 deaths.
Australian officials have said there are indications that Omicron is milder than other Covid-19 variants and that vaccines provide protection against serious illness. Australia is also rolling out booster shots and is now offering them five months after the second dose instead of after six months. A study released last week by Pfizer Inc. suggested that the third dose of its vaccine restores the neutralizing antibody response to a level that can fight Omicron.