Federal health minister Greg Hunt has announced a handful of travel restrictions after the World Health Organisation overnight declared the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, first found in South Africa, a “variant of concern”.

Speaking at a press conference today, Hunt, along with federal chief health minister Paul Kelly said that a number of new quarantine rules and travel restrictions would be effective immediately for those arriving from the South African region. For reference, those countries are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique.

As of today, the following applies:

  • Anyone who is not an Australian citizen or a dependent of one and has been in South Africa within the last 14 days will not be able to enter Australia.
  • Australian citizens, residents, and their dependents coming from South Africa and neighbouring areas will be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
  • The above rule also applies to international students and experienced migrant workers from countries Australia has established a travel bubble with who have arrived in the last 14 days.
  • Anyone who has arrived in Australia from South Africa and neighbouring countries needs to get tested and isolate immediately. Their isolation period should be from the time they arrived in Australia.
  • Flights from South African airlines into Australia have been suspended for the next 14 days.

The federal government will either ease or tighten these restrictions depending on the health advice over the next few weeks. Fortunately, Hunt stressed that we’re one of the most vaccinated and most recently vaccinated countries in the world. As of today, we’ve reached 92.2% and 86.6% single and double doses nationwide, babyyy.

Fortunately, there are currently no known cases of the variant in the country. 20 people who arrived in the country from South Africa are in a quarantine facility in Darwin. Only one of them has tested positive but it is unclear whether they have the new variant.

“If the medical evidence shows that further actions are required, we will not hesitate to take them,” Hunt added.

Last night, the US, UK, Europe, and other communities announced travel restrictions to the region.

New South Wales has not identified any cases linked to the Omicron variant as of publishing, but updated their health advice for anyone who has recently been to the continent. They’ve also advised locals to take caution and encouraged people to wear masks in large crowds even if the rules don’t require them to.

“NSW Health is urging all travellers who have been in southern Africa, including South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini, in the 14 days before arriving in Australia to get a Covid-19 test and isolate immediately,” NSW health minister Brad Hazzard told reporters this morning.

“[Omicron] could be something which is going to cause us a degree of concern going forward. We don’t know if… any of the vaccines will work with the Omicron variant.”

According to an epidemiologist via the Sydney Morning Herald, the variant has been found in parts of Israel, Hong Kong, Belgium, Botswana, and Malawi. FYI, if you failed geography in high school, several of those cities are on literally other sides of the world. Cool, cool, cool.

While the World Health Organisation has declared the variant one “of concern”, they’ve also stressed for people to not panic. According to WHO scientist Christian Lindmeir, it will take “a few weeks” to fully grasp the impact of the Omicron variant.

“Early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations that will require us to undergo further study,” they said via the ABC.

We’ll know more about the variant and how it might impact you and your plans for December when this story continues to develop.

Stay tuned for more.

Image: Getty Images / [Rohan Thomson]