Australia Urgent national cabinet meeting over Omicron strain, but reopening plan remains
South Africa tries to calm fears over new Covid variant 'Omicron'
Belgium revealed a case of the variant - named 'Omicron' by the WHO overnight - prompting EU chiefs to call for an 'emergency brake' on all travel from southern Africa after it was found in Israel.South African medics moved to calm a wave of panic over a new ultra-infectious and vaccine resistant Covid strain today as its arrival in Europe sparked fears of a new Christmas shutdown.
National cabinet will hold an urgent meeting within the next two days to discuss the new Omicron variant as the Prime Minister sought to reassure the country the reopening plan remains unchanged for now.
Scott Morrison on Monday morning urged states and territories to stick to their reopening plans, as so far, the new strain appears to cause milder symptoms than other COVID-19 variants.
But the imminent arrival of migrant workers and international students could be reconsidered over concerns about the variant, which has already been detected in three travellers in NSW.
"Case numbers of themselves are not the issue. It's about whether people are getting a worse illness or it's going to put stress on your hospital system," Mr Morrison told Seven's breakfast show Sunrise.
We Know Almost Nothing About the Omicron Variant
Here’s everything we do.
"We have to live with this virus. The fact we've had a new variant, is not a surprise. We've been saying all through the pandemic that new variants also come and we'll deal with them as they turn up."
On Saturday NSW and Victoria introduced 72-hour isolation requirements for all vaccinated international arrivals regardless of their departure destination, while the federal government closed the border to all non-citizens from nine southern African countries.
On Monday morning, Mr Morrison ruled out closing the international border to citizens, but said the plan to allow students and skilled workers back in from December 1 would be considered "in the light of all the new information".
"This isn't the first of the new strains we have seen, and the evidence to date does not suggest it is a more severe form of the virus. And [with] issues of transmissibility and impact on the vaccine, there is no evidence yet to suggest there are issues there," he said.
PM 'fully supports' action by NSW and VIC with Omicron fears growing
The Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he 'fully supports' the action taken by New South Wales and Victoria amid growing fears over the super-contagious Omicron strain of Covid-19. But Dr Paul Griffin, Director of Infectious Diseases at Mater Health in Brisbane, said it was still too early to judge the risks of Omicron.'I don't think we're back to square one. I mean, I think a lot of us thought this is what this virus is going to keep doing, going to keep evolving and we are going to keep finding new variants,' he told ABC.
"But should that information come forward, then obviously we will be considering that and moving very quickly."
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said Australia should not have a "knee jerk" reaction to the emerging variant.
"We need to open up to the world, we need to do so safely," he said on Monday morning.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said early data suggests the new variant may cause milder symptoms than previous strains of COVID-19, but has cautioned that the data available is still very limited.
The same early data suggests that Omicron is probably more transmissible but might be no more vaccine-resistant than other strains, Professor Kelly told Radio National.
Professor Kelly said two recently returned travellers in NSW who have Omicron were both fully vaccinated.
"We're concerned, we're gathering information and we're taking action appropriately," Professor Kelly said.
TWO confirmed cases of fears Omicron Covid strain are found in Sydney
NSW Health announced on Sunday urgent genomic testing had confirmed two overseas travellers have the South African variant of the virus.NSW Health confirmed on Sunday urgent genomic testing found the two travellers who touched down in Sydney on Saturday night have the new strain.
Cases have only been publicised in recent days and Professor Kelly says he has had conversations with evolutionary biologists who believe that the virus's genetic makeup suggests it has been circulating in southern Africa for some time.
Professor Kelly added he did not believe it had been circulating in Australia undetected for weeks, as the state's Health Minister Brad Hazzard had suggested.
The country's chief medical officers' group, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, met twice at the weekend and will continue to meet daily to discuss the latest data on the variant of concern.
The South African doctor who raised the alarm about the new variant of concern, Omicron, said it will be another seven to 14 days before it was clear if the strain resulted in severe illness.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, the chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, said the current symptoms of those carrying the Omicron variant also include body aches and pains, a "scratch in the throat" and a dry cough that comes and goes.
"They are mild symptoms, and unusually in this case the main one is fatigue for about two days," the South African clinician told 3AW Breakfast.
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Omicron 3 times more likely to cause reinfection than previous COVID variants: researchers .
South African scientists say the risk of reinfection from the omicron COVID-19 variant is at least three times higher than for any previous variant. In the preliminary study, researchers looked at approximately 2.8 million positive coronavirus infections between March 2020 and Nov. 27, 2021, and 35,670 suspected reinfections were identified. From this retrospective analysis, the group said increases in primary infection were observed following the introduction of both the beta and delta variants, but no corresponding increase was observed in the reinfection hazard.