Australia reopened borders on Wednesday to vaccinated skilled migrants and foreign students after a near two-year ban on their entry, in a bid to boost an economy hit by stop-start Covid-19 lockdowns and restart international travel.
The emergence of the new Omicron variant forced officials to delay the reopening by two weeks after health officials sought a temporary pause to get more information about the strain, which so far appears to show milder symptoms than other Covid-19 variants.
“We’re going to live with this virus, and we’re not going to let it drag us back to where we’ve been,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told radio station 4BC on Wednesday. “We’ve got one of the highest vaccination rates, which means we can fight this thing.”
Australia has inoculated nearly 90% of its population above 16 with two doses and shortened the wait time for booster shots after the emergence of the Omicron cases.
Morrison, who had been deemed a casual contact after attending an event last week along with an infected person, said he has been cleared to fly interstate to Queensland after negative test results.
“That’s what living with the virus is,” he said.
Australia closed its borders in March 2020 in a bid to contain the spread of the new coronavirus and had limited the number of citizens and permanent residents allowed entry.
The relaxation of border rules is expected to ease labour shortages, which have threaten to slow the country’s economic rebound.
Analysts are upbeat about Australia’s rapid post-vaccine recovery, with the level of employment and labour force participation to return to the pre-pandemic trend by the end of the first quarter of 2022.
“Omicron risks delaying that, but early evidence suggests that Australia’s world-beating labour market recovery at the turn of 2021 is on track to be repeated at the turn of 2022,” Deutsche Bank Australia’s chief economist Phil O’Donoghue said.
- Reuters, with George Russell