SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Australia unexpectedly suspended attempts to reopen its international borders to skilled workers and students on Monday, citing an emergency security meeting as the reason. The much-anticipated December 1 reopening will be delayed by at least two weeks, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, because to worries about the Covid-19 Omicron variety.
To combat the spread of COVID-19, Australia closed its international borders in May 2020, allowing only a small number of citizens and permanent residents to enter, exacerbating labor shortages and harming the vital tourism economy.
So far, the Omicron variant has been discovered five times in Australia.
Morrison described the postponement as a “necessary and temporary choice” based on medical advice. “The brief delay will allow Australia to acquire the data it needs to better understand the Omicron type,” he stated.
Morrison voiced new concerns about “the vaccine’s efficacy, the spectrum of illness it may induce, particularly if it might produce more moderate symptoms, and the quantity of transmission.”
Due to a slow vaccine deployment, Australia had among of the world’s tightest and longest-lasting border restrictions throughout the pandemic.
As of the end of October, moreover, 235,000 foreigners, including roughly 160,000 students, had visas for Australia, according to official numbers.
Australians, permanent residents, and Singaporeans were allowed to cross the border, but not the country’s estimated 1.4 million skilled workers, who were prevented from returning if they left.
The postponement on Monday would be alarming for the country’s hard-hit education sector.
Universities Australia, a trade association, estimates that 130,000 international students are still studying in Australia.
International students account for about 21% of total enrolment at these schools, and the border closure has resulted in the layoff of hundreds of employees.
A proposal to open the border to Japanese and South Korean travellers was also put on hold on December 1.