Thu. May 26th, 2022

International students barred from entering Australia for at least another two weeks are being urged to “hang in there” after the federal government postponed its reopening plan in response to the new Omicron strain of COVID-19.

Fully vaccinated international students, skilled migrants and humanitarian visa holders were due to restart returning to Australia from Wednesday.

The National Security Committee in the Cabinet decided last night to postpone the move until December 15, while health authorities are collecting and assessing the latest information on Omicron with five cases already detected among returning travelers in Australia.

CEO Vicki Thomson of the Group of Eight, which represents some of the country’s leading universities, said it was an “unfortunate” yet understandable decision.

“To our all our students, the 30,000 that the group of eight has got offshore at the moment, stay tuned,” Thomson told ABC.

“Every decision that has been made is in their best interest, so hopefully, you know, it will be a good result before Christmas.

She said any further delay in allowing international students into the country, combined with quarantine requirements, could disrupt the first semester of study.

“The logistics of getting students in for the start of the new year just means it will potentially be delayed,” she said.

“Any delay in getting international students back is not only an impact on our universities, but of course a significant impact on our hospitality, on our retail sector, because we know that many of our students work in these sectors.”

The National Cabinet will meet this afternoon to consider its response to the new strain, which has been described as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.

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What do we know about the omicron variant?

“Australians can be confident that we are in a strong position to address COVID and its new challenges,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement last night.

Researchers are racing to learn more about Omicron, and it is not yet clear whether it is more transmissible than Delta, whether it results in more serious disease compared to previous strains, or whether it responds to existing vaccines.

While the government has described the move as a “temporary break”, the Australian Refugee Council said thousands of refugees and humanitarian visa holders who have made travel arrangements to come to Australia would be nervous.

“There are many humanitarian visa holders who will be destroyed,” CEO Paul Power told ABC.

He said more than 4,000 refugees who had been granted Australian visas prior to border closures in March last year have endured harsh conditions in the host countries.

“We have had people who have had their time in quite unsustainable circumstances extended for up to two years already,” he said.

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