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Australia Delays Border Reopening for Migrant Workers Because of Omicron Variant

A flight crew walk through the terminal at Sydney Airport, Nov. 29, 2021.

Australia has changed its plan to allow fully vaccinated skilled migrants, backpackers and international students into the country beginning December 1.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there would be a two-week delay because of the spread of the omicron COVID-19 variant.

Several infections have been detected in travelers returning to Australia.

The World Health Organization has declared omicron a “variant of concern.”

Business groups have been calling for Australia, which closed its borders to most foreign nationals in March 2020, to allow in migrant workers to ease chronic skills shortages.

The Business Council of Australia, which represents the sector, supports the decision to force migrants and students to wait while Australia assesses the threat posed by the new coronavirus variant.

But its chief executive Jennifer Westacott says that plans to reopen Australia’s internal borders must go ahead.

“We have got to stay the course on reopening the domestic economy," she said. "We have got to make sure that we get those (internal) borders open in the timeframe that was suggested, that we do not go back into lockdowns, that we do not go back into state-wide lockdowns, that we do not go back to where we were, that we keep on track unless things dramatically change. I think that is the most important thing for business at the moment.”

Internal travel between some jurisdictions in Australia remains restricted. Western Australia, which currently has just three active COVID-19 cases, has imposed some of the toughest controls on visitors from other states and territories.

Australia has recorded about 210,000 COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic. 2,000 people have died.

About 87% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated and health authorities are recommending booster shots.

The Business Council of Australia has called for a concerted international effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries where inoculation rates are low.