The coronavirus variant Omicron spread across Australia, putting the country’s reopening plans to the test, as a hotspot in Sydney swelled to thirteen cases and an infection was discovered in Queensland.
The majority of the instances were discovered in Australia’s most populated state, New South Wales, but another person who came in the Northern Territory from South Africa tested positive as well.
The federal government is sticking to its plan to restore the economy in the hopes that the new strain would be less severe than past strains, while several state and territory administrations have tightened their domestic border restrictions. On December 3, a school in Sydney confirmed the first community transmission of the Omicron variant. The source is being investigated by authorities.
According to the Chief Health Officer of New South Wales (NSW), Kerry Chant, where Sydney is the capital, more Omicron cases are likely to be recorded over the weekend as more test results come in. Authorities in Queensland said the state suspected its first Omicron case in a traveller from South Africa, and genomic sequencing was underway.
Australia’s Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, isn’t promising that the country’s border will reopen to overseas students and visa holders in mid-December. Due to the appearance of the Omicron Covid-19 version, Australia’s long-awaited international border opening was delayed by further two weeks.
In Australia, nine Omicron variant infections have been confirmed, with all but one occurring in NSW. Omicron appears to be more highly infectious than Delta, and there are signs that it may induce a milder sickness. Authorities are waiting for additional information on the new strain’s vaccination efficacy. “It appears as if there is still good resistance, strong resistance, but it’s too soon to make a definitive call on that,” Mr Hunt said.
The appearance of the new variety has thrown everyone into yet another round of agonising uncertainty. Holiday plans and journeys to see relatives across the country or around the world are suddenly up in the air as we wait and hold our breath. It’s tough to make preparations for the future when a new coronavirus strain could appear at any time. It’s been especially difficult for individuals who have been caught in the middle of two countries, waiting to start or resume their lives in Australia.
International students fear that the two-week ban may be prolonged, putting them back in limbo, as countries tighten border procedures and additional cases of people who haven’t visited outside of Australia are discovered. The delay is a setback for Australia’s $2 trillion economy, as employers have long called for a resumption of student and skilled migrant arrivals to alleviate labour shortages.
At the end of October, more than 2,35,000 foreigners, including roughly 1,60,000 students, had visas for Australia, according to government data.
The country’s hard-hit education sector will be concerned about Monday’s delay. Universities Australia, an industry organization, estimates that 1,30,000 international students are still studying outside of Australia. These universities have come to rely on international students, who account for around 21% of total enrolments, and the border closure has resulted in the layoff of hundreds of employees.