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'We're not spooked': PM says Omicron will not crush nation's hopes of reopening

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declared he and state and territory would not be “spooked” by the threat posed by the new Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus, vowing to use Tuesday’s  national cabinet meeting to ensure Australia sticks to reopening plans.

 

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He said the purpose fo the meeting was “so that we all can know what the variant is and what the risks are and are not”.

“What’s important is we have a booster program, and we have ample vaccines to do that,” he said.

He was speaking after Federal Health officials said there is an overwhelming view that Omicron, was “manageable” and that so far most infections in Australia have been very mild.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the decision to halt Australia’s planned international border reopening for two weeks was done out of an abundance of caution.

The Omicron variant has already sent shivers around the world.

It comes as Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Tuesday announced that virus vaccines will be mandated for all of the State’s school teachers and staff, early childhood centre staff and workers at correctional centres, youth detention centres and airports.

Palaszczuk told parliament that by December 17 all would be required to have at least one vaccine dose and they would have to be double vaccinated by January 23 ahead of the new school year.

The announcement, previously flagged, was not in response to the latest variant.

Experts admit that so much about Omicron is still unknown, given it is only six days since South Africa first reported it to the World Health Organisation. It will take time before we know just how transmissible it is, how severe it is and how it manifests in different environments and amongst different age groups.

The WHO has described Omicron as posing a “very high” risk of infection. These words echoed around the world and governments everywhere started taking swift and precautionary action.

Here in Australia, the Federal Government decided late Monday to halt, for two weeks until December 15, the planned arrival of 200,000 international students, skilled workers and humanitarian and refugee visa holders and to put the planned international reopening into a holding pattern.

It was not a decision taken lightly.

Early Tuesday, Greg Hunt, the nation’s chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly and Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, held a joint press conference to address a jittery nation and a stockmarket on alert.

Hunt said advice was that Omicron might turn out to be a milder variant than others we have seen but more transmissible.

There are now five confirmed Omicron cases in Australia – four in New South Wales and one in the Northern Territory – all in quarantine.

Here is what we do and don’t know so far about Omicron, according to Prof Kelly and Hunt:

And what we don’t know yet:

“We have had a number of variants over time. We have always looked at what we know and what we don’t know and made a rapid assessment,” Prof Kelly said.

There is also the question of speeding up the rollout of vaccine booster shots. The UK overnight reduced the booster wait time from six months to three.

The Australian Technical Adivsory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) is currently considering Australia’s response in regards to booster wait times and Prof Kelly pointed out that the UK and the northern hemisphere is in winter and boosters in winter make a lot of sense.

Hunt says 430,000 Australians have already had a booster shot and if necessary the country has the capability to deliver 300,000 a day and there is ample stock in Australia to meet demand.

“We want to give Australians confidence that we have got this, we know how to do it.”

 

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