Australia PM rules out return to lockdown in wake of new COVID strain
Scott Morrison, however, pauses plans to reopen borders to some foreign nationals
The Australian prime minister on Tuesday said his government will not return to COVID-19 lockdowns after the confirmation of the omicron variant.
"We're not going back to lockdowns. None of us want that. None of us want to go back to those, those long quarantines and all of those sorts of issues," Scott Morrison told a news conference in the capital Canberra.
The government, however, delayed its plan of reopening the country's borders for international students and skilled workers for 15 days starting Dec. 1.
It said that the temporary pause will ensure Australia can better understand the omicron variant, including the "efficacy of vaccines, the range of illness and the level of transmission."
The heavily mutated variant was detected in South Africa earlier this month, prompting several countries to issue a travel ban on Southern African countries.
Australia, which has so far found five omicron infections, has now delayed the restrictions it was set to ease.
It has also banned entry of non-citizens who have been to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi and Mozambique in the last 14 days.
Australian citizens and permanent residents, meanwhile, will need to go into immediate quarantine for two weeks.
Until recently, it had some of the strictest border policies in the world. It closed its international border to noncitizens in March 2020, and officials responded with lockdowns, which recently ended after states hit their vaccination targets.
Morrison defended the “temporary pause,” hoping and expecting that omicron will “prove to be a more moderate form of the virus.”
“What we did last night was protecting against that by having a sensible pause and to keep proceeding with where we are now and to further assess that information,” he said.
He called on the people to “move forward into Christmas with confidence.” “Look forward to everybody coming together for Christmas and New Year's,” he added.
Australia has so far reported 210,238 COVID-19 cases and 2,006 related deaths since the start of the pandemic.
As many as 92.4% people aged 16 and above have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 87% are fully vaccinated.
* Writing by Islamuddin SajidAnadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.