The dramatic emergence from Africa of a new Covid-19 variant, named Omicron, and its swift arrival in Australia and elsewhere, has transformed the world travel landscape, triggering a hunt for Omicron carriers, spurring Aussie states to reimpose border restrictions and sending countries rushing to ban flights from southern Africa.
Two international travellers in NSW quarantine tested positive yesterday to the new Omicron variant. As well as in Australia, it was also detected in Britain, Germany, Denmark, Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic and Hong Kong. Israel became the first country to bar entry to all foreigners over the new variant.
Omicron spreads rapidly – including between people who are double vaccinated. Extensive mutation means it diverges significantly from previous configurations of the virus.
An initial report from South Africa said most Omicron victims so far had shown only mild symptoms, which is encouraging, but other reports said Omicron was hitting young adults in their 20s and early 30s.
Vaccination still gives protection, so far as is known, but perhaps less protection. Governments want to be on the safe side until more is discovered.
It almost seems as if advances over the past few months are being wound back. Travel stocks have dived.
South African tour operators and travel agents are horrified at the speed with which countries slammed borders shut and airlines cut flights over the weekend. Chief executive of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents, Otto de Vries, called it a “a knee-jerk reaction” that made life difficult for airlines, hotels, travel businesses and travellers. Many travellers from Africa found themselves stranded.
Governments and states need to protect their citizens, however. They can’t look on the bright side and wait for scientists to determine the virulence of a rapidly spreading variant before taking action. Border closures do not keep a virus out permanently, but they can slow its entry, as Western Australia has shown.
In Australia, WA Premier Mark McGowan announced a tightening of the border with South Australia. Arrivals from South Australia will be required to undergo 14 days of self-isolation.
All overseas arrivals into NSW, the ACT and Victoria are now required to get tested and isolate for 72 hours. South Australia has ordered all international travellers and people arriving from high-risk locations from within Australia to undertake 14 days quarantine.
– Peter Needham
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) put out the following notice yesterday:
Travel restrictions due to new COVID-19 variant
A new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, has been detected in southern Africa. Several destinations have put in place restrictions on travellers from the affected region.
This is an evolving situation. Travel rules and restrictions in other destinations are changing at short notice. It’s your responsibility to learn about all the destinations you’re visiting and to plan for your safety. This includes entry requirements and understanding any risks. It’s also your responsibility to stay informed, in case things change.
To stay up to date with any changes:
- subscribe to our travel advisories and news updates
- follow us on Facebook and Twitter
- contact your travel agent or airline – airlines may cancel and reschedule flights at short notice
- follow any official announcements from your departure and transit airports and governing authorities
- contact the nearest embassy or consulate of the destinations you’re transiting and travelling to before you travel if you have any queries about their entry or exit requirements
If you’re currently in a destination affected by the new variant, read our global health advisory for steps to take to protect your health. Also, read advice on how to protect yourself and others from the Department of Health.
For Australians requiring consular assistance, contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate, or for 24-hour emergency consular support call +61 2 6261 3305.
Returning to Australia
On the basis of medical advice, on 27 November 2021, the Australian Government announced additional border security measures as a precaution to protect Australians from the new Omicron variant of concern.
The restrictions apply to travellers from South Africa and related destinations, including:
You’re not permitted to enter Australia if you’ve been to these countries in the past 14 days unless you’re
- an Australian citizen
- an Australian permanent resident
- their immediate family member
As a matter of precaution, no direct flights will be permitted from these nine southern African countries to Australia in the next 14 days.
If you’ve already returned to Australia from any of these nine countries in the past 14 days, you must immediately
- isolate yourself
- get a COVID-19 PCR test
- follow jurisdictional requirements which will include quarantine for 14 days from the time of departure from southern Africa
If you’re currently overseas and are returning to Australia from any of these countries, you must quarantine for 14 days subject to jurisdictional arrangements. Quarantine must be completed in the city you first arrive in. No domestic transits will be permitted. States and territories are responsible for quarantine arrangements. Contact the local jurisdiction for further details.
Written by Peter Needham
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