Topics: Temporary pause to further easing of international border restrictions.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning. Last night the National Security Committee of Cabinet took the decision to pause the reopening of our international borders to the world. That decision was taken based on medical advice in relation to the Omicron variant. We are very much aware that this is a new variant, and so we do need the time of 14 days, to see what this variant actually means in terms of its transmissibility in particular. So the advice that came from the Chief Medical Officer was that it was necessary for us to pause our international arrivals for 14 days. We took that advice and we have acted accordingly. There’s no change to the other arrangements that had been put in place. We will continue to review the situation, but the advice we have taken from the Chief Medical Officer is that we will need to pause arrivals of international students, skilled migrants and other visa holders for a period of 14 days from the 1st of December to the 15th of December.
QUESTION: Does this pave the way for the states to delay their reopening plans for the same reason – to await further information about the variant?
KAREN ANDREWS: We believe that 14 days to pause the international arrivals is appropriate for us to be able to get the information that we need in relation to this variant. The matters for the states to consider will be in relation to state borders and how they will manage any health outcomes within each state and territory. This variant appears to be very different to the Delta variant, so I’m sure that the state health officials will work very closely with our Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, to make sure the right decisions are made.
QUESTION: Can you assure Australians travelling abroad for Christmas or returning to Australia for Christmas that they won’t have 14 days’ quarantine imposed upon them?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the position of the Federal Government in relation to Australians – so Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family – is unchanged in terms of their ability to enter and exit Australia. In relation to what quarantine arrangements may be put in place, that is a matter for the states to determine. We’ve already seen that there have been some changes. But the Federal Government is very much aware that our vaccination rates are extraordinarily high – double vaxxed at over 86 per cent. That puts us in a very good position to deal with not only the Delta variant – which we have managed very well – but also the new variant; the Omicron variant. So we will be looking at what the health advice is over the next 14 days to make sure that we are making the right decisions in relation to keeping Australians safe.
QUESTION: Why is quarantine a state issue now? Because you put in place hotel quarantine last year. This has been a Federal responsibility.
KAREN ANDREWS: That’s actually not accurate. We have made it very clear what our position is in relation to quarantine. The states and territories do manage the health outcomes within their own states and territories, and it is the states that took on the responsibility of managing what would happen with international arrivals in particular as they entered this country. The responsibility of the Federal Government in relation to border management ends at the point that the passenger goes into the arrivals hall – that is well documented; that is well recognised by the states and territories; and they have all been in agreement as we have opened international borders, at the point the passenger moves through the arrivals hall and exits, it is a state health responsibility and they will determine whether or not that individual or family goes into quarantine; whether that be in a hotel; another facility; at home; or whether there is no quarantine for international arrivals.
QUESTION: In the UK they’ve shortened booster times down from six months to three months. Is that something we’re likely to do?
KAREN ANDREWS: We would take health advice on that. At this point in time the advice is that if you are eligible for a booster – which is six to eight months after you have had your second dose of the vaccine – that is the time frame for you to be looking at having your booster shot. That advice is unchanged at this point in time. But, as I said, we will listen very closely to the health advice and take that.
QUESTION: Just back on state borders, you don’t see any need to change the reopening plans as they are currently?
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a matter for the states and territories in relation to what they are doing with domestic borders. I would simply make the point that the Omicron variant is different to the Delta variant. The states and territories have done the right thing so far in terms of taking advice from health officials in relation to the impacts of the Omicron variant, and I encourage them to continue to do so.