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Australia closes border to southern Africa amid Omicron variant concerns

Australia will shut its borders to nine southern African countries and suspend all flights from those countries amid growing concerns about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says Australia is in a vastly different position to other countries due to high vaccination rates, but five actions need to be taken to protect people.

He says all flights will be immediately suspended for two weeks from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique.

Any Australian citizens or dependents who have been been in those countries in the past 14 days must go into mandatory quarantine and non-citizens who have been southern Africa will be banned from entering Australia.

Mr Hunt says anyone who has already arrived in the country from any of those nine countries must go into immediate self-isolation.

“There are no known cases of the Omicron variant in Australia,” he told reporters on Saturday.

“We’ve taken precautious action in the past, we’ve taken early action in the past, we are doing that again. 

“The difference is that we now have strong vaccines, we have one of the highest levels of coverage in the world, we have one of the most recently vaccinated populations in the world, and we have strong public health and social measures.”

The latest variant, given the name Omicron by the World Health Organisation on Saturday morning, first emerged in Botswana and has been detected in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium.

It has double the number of mutations as the Delta variant that sparked a third wave of outbreaks and lockdowns in Australia this year.

About 86 per cent of Australians aged 16 and older are double-dosed, which means between 72 and 73 per cent of the entire population. Just 1.5 per cent of the country have received a booster shot. 

The federal government is sending letters to every household in the country urging people to get their booster shot six months after becoming double-dosed.

AAP

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