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Covid update: Australia confirms first Omicron cases

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Two international arrivals to New South Wales have tested positive for the new variant, health authorities have confirmed


Two international travellers in NSW quarantine have tested positive to the new Omicron Covid variant, becoming the first cases in Australia.

The results came following urgent genomic testing undertaken by NSW Health on Sunday, after the two travellers arrived in Sydney on Saturday night.

The two cases, who had travelled from southern Africa and landed in Australia on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha, are both fully vaccinated and asymptomatic. They are currently in isolation in special health accomodation.

It comes as authorities conceded it would be “impossible” to prevent the new variant from entering Australia. Some states have now flagged this may affect their borders reopening, while others said they would push ahead with eased restrictions.

New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet warned it was “inevitable” that new variants would enter Australia.

“The clear point today is that this clearly demonstrates the pandemic is not over,” the premier told reporters on Sunday.

“There are limits to what the state and federal government can do: these variants will get into the country, it is inevitable.”

“We need to learn to live alongside the virus and to live alongside the various strains of the virus that will come our way, and the best thing we can do is get vaccinated and get booster shots.”

Related: Omicron: everything you need to know about new Covid variant

Perrottet said there were no plans to change the state’s reopening timeline, with restrictions on the unvaccinated to ease on 15 December.

It comes as Queensland authorities refused to guarantee the state’s borders would fully reopen in December as planned.

“We’ll make that decision when there’s evidence available that needs a change in position. But at this stage there’s no evidence available to support a change in position,” acting chief health officer Peter Aitken said.

Northern Territory health authorities were also running tests on an international arrival from South Africa who tested positive, and is now in quarantine at Howard Springs.

Both the NSW and Victorian governments have introduced 72-hour isolation requirements for all fully vaccinated international arrivals, regardless of where they have arrived from.

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard said that little was known about the new variant.

“What we do know is that it’s going to be hard to ascertain just how many people are here who have been in those African nations.”

NSW recorded 185 new locally acquired cases on Sunday, and Victoria recorded 1,061 new cases and four deaths.

Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said it would be “impossible to keep out” the new strain, but that international border closures may be a “step too far”.

“We just need the time to be clear about whether this virus is in this country already, and the extent to which it has spread globally. It’s going to be impossible to keep out, I imagine.”

“If it’s more transmissible than Delta, then it will become the global variant for sure.”

About 40 Victorians have been identified as having travelled through one of the nine southern African nations that are subject to the new restrictions.

“This is not back to the beginning,” Sutton said. “We are not back at square one by any means. The vaccination coverage that we’ve got – over 90% of eligible Victorians being fully vaccinated already – is absolutely more than useful.”

Federal health minister Greg Hunt announced a two-week ban on non-citizens arriving from South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique, the countries attempting to tackle the spread of the new variant.

Australian citizens arriving from those countries will now need to enter 14 days of supervised quarantine upon arrival.

Related: Queensland Human Rights Commission flooded with inquiries due to Covid border confusion

Hunt said the federal government “will not hesitate” taking further actions if necessary.

“As information is provided, as medical advice develops, if more measures are needed we will not hesitate.”

“We took a big step yesterday to block flights from nine countries … and to require the quarantine for 14 days for people who have been in those nine countries. It is a significant hardship, but it was an important step forward,” Hunt said.

Fifty-four people who have been in those southern African nations have arrived in Australia since Saturday.

Hunt said there was preliminary advice that the new variant was not more dangerous than previous variants, in that it did not appear to cause increased hospitalisation, serious illness or loss of life.

Prime minister Scott Morrison backed the move to introduce 72-hour isolation periods for international arrivals, calling the move “sensible and practical”.

“It is a fast-moving issue but we will continue, as we always have, sensible, balanced, guided by the best possible medical evidence and medical expert advice.”

The strain has already being detected in countries around the world such as the UK, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong and Israel.

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