National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response and the new Omicron strain.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly provided an update on the current COVID-19 situation and health response across Australia.

The World Health Organization has declared the B.1.1.529 strain, now known as the Omicron strain and first detected in Southern Africa on 24 November 2021, to be a variant of concern, one of five existing variants of concern including Delta. Six cases of the Omicron strain have been detected in Australia. All cases have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, and are in quarantine.

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been 210,239 confirmed cases in Australia and sadly 2,006 people have died. More than 47.8 million tests have been undertaken, with over 1 million tests reported in the past 7 days.

Globally there have been over 262 million cases and sadly over 5.2 million deaths, with 650,462 new cases and 7,391 deaths reported in the last 24 hours. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge in many countries around the world.

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine roll out continues to expand. To date over 39.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia, including 95,247 in the previous 24 hours. In the previous 7 days, more than 604,000 vaccines have been administered in Australia.

More than 92.4 per cent of the Australian population aged 16 years and over have now had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including over 97.4 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 99.9 per cent of over 70 year olds.

More than 87 per cent of Australians aged 16 years and over are now fully vaccinated including more than 93.7 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 97.3 per cent of Australians over 70 years of age.

National Cabinet noted Australia has sufficient supplies of booster shots available, with contracts in place for 85 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, 15 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine.

National Cabinet further noted that the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation are in late stage consideration regarding when Pfizer can be rolled out to 5 to 11 year olds.

National Cabinet and the National Federation Reform Council will next meet as scheduled on Friday 10 December.

Omicron Variant

National Cabinet received an update from Professor Paul Kelly on the Omicron variant and governments responses.

The Chief Medical Officer provided advice that Australia is in the early stages of understanding the Omicron variant.

At this stage it is known that the Omicron strain has a high number of mutations particularly within its spike protein. Early data indicates Omicron may be more transmissible when compared with previous variants of the virus which causes COVID-19. At this stage there is insufficient evidence that vaccines and treatments are less effective against Omicron than other variants, and no evidence at this stage that Omicron is a more severe disease.

The Commonwealth and states and territories have already acted on medical advice to implement travel restrictions and revised quarantine and home isolation requirements.

The Commonwealth has implemented restrictions for travellers into Australia who have been in countries of concern in the past 14 days to slow the entry of the Omicron variant into Australia. The Commonwealth has implemented a temporary ban on non-citizens from Southern Africa entering Australia. Australians who have returned from Southern Africa countries are required to undertake 14 days quarantine under state and territory public health requirements.

The Commonwealth has updated the Australian Traveller Declaration (ATD) to specifically require travellers to comply with PCR testing requirements mandated by states and territories. These changes are in addition to the steps the Commonwealth has taken since 1 November to provide states and territories with detailed advice on incoming passengers, including by sharing data sets which link travellers’ ATD data to the flight on which they are arriving, and the enhancements to the ATD.

The Commonwealth National Security Committee has further taken the decision to push back the reopening to international skilled and student visa cohorts, as well as humanitarian visa holders, from 1 December until 15 December. Reopening to Japan and the Republic of Korea will also be paused to 15 December.

These are temporary precautions pending more information on the Omicron strain becoming available worldwide.

Existing arrangements will continue for Australians, permanent residents, immediate family (including parents), and other exempt visa holders including travellers through the New Zealand and Singapore safe travel zones and Pacific Labour Scheme participants.

States and territories have initiated new quarantine and home isolation requirements under public health measures. The Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria will continue to require 72 hours home isolation for all international arrivals, with 14 days quarantine in place for travellers returning from Southern African countries.

National Cabinet noted that on the basis of advice provided by the Chief Medical Officer, there was no immediate need to change current settings.

National Cabinet agreed that the Commonwealth and state and territory governments will continue to pursue a suppression strategy, noting the objective is to limit the rate of Omicron incursions into Australia, rather than eliminate it at the border.