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- 30th Prime Minister of Australia
Following the discovery of a new Omicron Covid-19 strain, Sunrise's Nat Barr has grilled Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison over whether we opened our borders too soon after a small number of cases were discovered in the country.
"The two infected travellers arrived on flights from Southern Africa," Nat explained to viewers on Monday morning. "Both are fully vaccinated and they are asymptomatic. They're now in quarantine. It follows the arrival of hundreds of international passengers over the weekend, with a further 27 coming from the same affected region.
"The discovery of the new strain has triggered concern right around the world as countries begin to suspend travel from that area."
Speaking to Scott Morrison, she questioned: "We saw with Delta just how fast these things can spread, didn't we? How concerning are these two cases? And do you think we opened our borders too soon?"
"Well, let me stress firstly our borders are not open," he responded. "The only country to which our borders are open are Singapore and New Zealand otherwise, the only people who are coming to Australia are those who have very specific exemptions and those who are Australian residents and citizens, we don't close our borders to Australian citizens. That has only been done once in the case of India in a very short period of time. But, of course, it is concerning and that's why we're getting all the information we possibly can.
"The cases that are presented as you say are in quarantine and appropriate action has been taken by the New South Wales Government in those matters. We moved very quickly on Saturday. This moved from a variant under investigation to a variant of concern within a very short period of time and we immediately put those extra controls in place on Saturday. The national security committee will be meeting this afternoon to consider the first of December decisions that are pending for skilled migrants and students.
"And so we'll obviously review all of the information this afternoon. And this morning, I've advised the premiers and chief ministers that I'll be convening a meeting of the National cabinet, either today or tomorrow."
Nat then asked whether the Australian government will reconsider allowing international students and migrant workers into Australia, to which he said: "We will consider them in the light of all the new information and that's what we have to do with this."
He added that Australia isn't in the same position it was in early 2020, as we now have 86.7 per cent of the population vaccinated.
"We've already had 13 other strains which have presented this isn't the first of the new strains that we've seen, and the evidence to date does not suggest that it is a more severe form of the virus and issues of transmissibility and impact on the vaccine.
"There is no evidence yet to suggest that there are issues there. But should that information come forward? Then obviously then we'll be considering that and moving very quickly, as we already have on the information that has been available as to us to date."
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said authorities are looking closely at what Omicron means for viral transmission and the efficacy of vaccines.
"It does transmit from person to person quite readily, at least at well as the Delta virus. And so that means that it will spread," he told ABC.
"In terms of the vaccines, there is no solid evidence at the moment that there is a problem with that. Although we will wait for further advice and laboratory studies in coming days and weeks."
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud urged people not to panic because the rise of new variants was inevitable.
"We are going to have to open up and we're going to have to learn to live with this and the variants that will come," he told the Nine Network.
"We can't panic. We need to work through this with science, not emotion."
Australia has shut its borders to nine southern African countries, while states have brought in new isolation rules for international arrivals.
The South African doctor who alerted authorities to the new variant emphasised the strain did not appear to cause severe illness.
A man in his 30s came to see Angelique Coetzee suffering from fatigue, body aches and pain before he and his family tested positive.
"They were not very sick, none of them were extremely sick," Dr Coetzee said.
Labor's NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten said the Omicron strain highlighted the need for an effective quarantine system.
"I don't think that 72 hours is enough. And if we don't want to have more severe restrictions, then quarantine is our front-line of defence," he told ABC TV.
Meanwhile, Victoria on Sunday reported 1061 new COVID-19 cases and four more deaths, and NSW 185 additional infections.
There were seven new cases in the ACT and four in the Northern Territory where the remote community of Lajamanu is in lockdown until December 11.
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