Topics: Temporary pause to further easing of international border restrictions.
SARAH HARRIS: Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, thank you so much for being with us this morning. Thousands of people were hoping to reunite with their family and friends and they will be impacted by this decision. We have to live with the virus. So, is this a bit reactionary to what we’re seeing so far?
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning. I absolutely understand how disappointed people will be who had made plans – based on the announcement that we would be reopening our international borders on the 1st of December. This is not a decision the Government has taken lightly – to put a pause on our international arrivals. We actually met last night; heard from the Chief Medical Officer in detail about what is known about the Omicron variant. What became obvious is that there is still more work that needs to be done to understand this variant in more detail. The recommendation from the Chief Medical Officer was that there was a pause on the reopening for 14 days. So we agreed to that through the National Security Committee of Cabinet and hence the announcement that that pause would take effect 14 days from the 1st of December. So, yes, it’s very disappointing, but this is a new variant we need to understand. It is a temporary pause; it is 14 days. We are very committed as a Federal Government to reopening our borders as soon as it is safe to do so.
TRISTAN MACMANUS: Minister, there’s now four Omicron cases, three in New South Wales and one in the Northern Territory. Are we anticipating more?
KAREN ANDREWS: We know at this stage the Omicron variant is highly transmissible. So, we know that it is already in this country. We’re doing all that we can to limit the arrivals, particularly those arrivals coming in from southern Africa. Australian residents, permanent residents and citizens and their immediate family are still able to return to Australia and go through the various quarantine arrangements that we have here. But we are concerned to make sure that we understand the impact of what this variant will be. So it is a safe and a prudent measure that we have taken; it is temporary; and as a government, we are doing all we can to make sure we open those borders as soon as possible. Under the National Plan, it actually made it quite clear that there would be some circumstances that would mean we would need to look at how we were going to manage that. This is one of those. We certainly haven’t slammed borders shut. We have put in place a temporary pause on the reopening while we gather the information that we need.
TRISTAN MACMANUS: So, Minister, what happens now when the next variant comes along?
KAREN ANDREWS: I think the important thing for us to recognise is that COVID is far from over; it is going to continue for some time. We don’t know how long, but we’re actually able to deal with the Omicron variant differently to what we have when previous variants were determined. So I think we will be finessing our approach as we go. We do have such incredibly high vaccination rates here in Australia; that is helping us enormously. A huge thank you to everyone who has rolled their sleeves up and been vaccinated, because that has meant we have been able to take a very measured approach since we’ve become aware of the Omicron variant.
SARAH HARRIS: Alright, Minister Karen Andrews, thank you so much for your time this morning.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure. Take care.