Australia’s borders will open to foreign skilled workers and students on Wednesday, and travel bubbles with Japan and South Korea will begin, in a key sign the government is not overly concerned about the omicron variant of coronavirus.
Speaking in Canberra alongside visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Prime Minister Scot Morrison said the two-week pause would end on Wednesday as planned and not be extended.
“Some 20,000 Korean students come and study in Australia, and we are looking forward to welcoming them back as we are the many tourist and business travellers and skilled migrants, and on Wednesday of this week, we will move again forward,” he said.
“The borders will be reopened both to Korea and to Japan and for skilled migration and for students as we conclude the pause that we announced several weeks ago.”
Late last month, as omicron arrived on the scene, the federal government postponed from December 1 to December 15 travel bubbles with South Korea and Japan, and the opening of borders to more than 200,000 skilled workers and foreign students who already had visas.
Of the 235,000 current overseas visa holders who may be eligible to enter Australia after December 1, 162,000 are foreign students and another 57,400 are skilled workers. There are 11,700 refugees and 400 temporary and provision family visa holders.
If they are fully vaccinated and test negative 72 hours before entry, the arrivals will not need a travel exemption to enter participating states.
The December 1 start date was delayed until more was known about omicron. Thus far, it is deemed no more virulent than other strains and the vaccine is effective against it, although the government has brought forward from six months to five months the period for a booster shot.
On Friday last week, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said an overreaction to omicron by the states posed a risk to the economic recovery.
“It’s critical that states don’t overreact to Omicron. The public should be confident that the vaccines are providing an effective defence against the virus, with the number of cases hospitalised and hospitalisations coming down.
“The early signs about omicron are that while it’s transmissible, it may be less severe than earlier thought, and it’s critically important that the trajectory and the speed of the recovery is maintained and that omicron is not allowed to derail the momentum that has built up.”