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Omicron, Australia: NOT the 'friendly mutant virus' warn disease experts

Experts have warned Omicron is not a 'friendly mutant virus' and said the new Covid strain remains 'unpredictable' and 'dangerous'.

Australia currently has six known cases of Omicron, all in young and double-vaccinated residents. 

However, the South African province where the Omicron Covid-19 variant was first detected has experienced a more than 300 percent increase in virus-related hospitalisations this week. 

Professor Brendan Crabb, the director of the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, shared a stark warning to anyone underestimating the new variant and urged Australians to remain cautious.

'Please stop. It's dangerous to imply that it may be a good thing to allow SARS-Cov-2 of any sort to circulate,' he tweeted on Tuesday. 

'It’s an unpredictable, still evolving new virus.'

Experts have warned Omicron is not a 'friendly mutant virus' and said the new Covid strain remains 'unpredictable' and 'dangerous'

Professor Brendan Crabb has shared a stark warning to anyone underestimating the new variant and urged Australians to remain cautious

The Omicron variant has spread to countries around the world after first being discovered by scientists in South Africa

Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton echoed that sentiment on social media on Tuesday, saying scientists still don't know the impact of Omicron.

'There's been a lot said about this but the thing to really emphasise is that we are still in very early days of understanding this Variant of Concern, as WHO has designated it,' he posted to Twitter.

'It clearly seems to be out-competing the Delta variant in Southern Africa. This may be due to higher effectiveness in transmission, immune escape or (perhaps most likely) a bit of both. 

In any case, that's a strong reason to watch it very closely and urgently understand more.' 

Australia currently has six known cases of Omicron, all in young and double-vaccinated residents

Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says doctors don't yet know the full impact of the Omicron strain and urged Australians to continue to follow health orders

Mr Sutton said there have been cases of Omicron recorded in Australia in people who were both double-vaxxed and had been infected with Covid in the past, but said there was no information to suggest that was a characteristic of the new strain.

'With so many mutations of the spike protein, immune escape is possible,' he said.

'Current vaccines are still likely to provide protection, but this is the biggest question to resolve - likely more known in coming weeks. Is it more severe? 

'Again, a lot said but no real indications at all at this stage. We shouldn't assume it's very mild, or more severe.'

He underlined the importance of being vaccinated and the need for booster shots for the public as the virus continues to mutate. 

'What we DO know, is that getting vaccinated is as important as ever, and that getting a BOOSTER is urgent. 

'Don't delay if you're already due. And importantly, there are many other things to do RIGHT NOW to reduce your risk, for this or any variant.' 

During a press conference on Tuesday morning, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said doctors know the new strain, which is the most mutated so far, is 'transmissible' because it passed between hotel rooms in Hong Kong - but the severity is unknown.

But Health Minister Greg Hunt said the variant is 'manageable', adding: 'There may be milder symptoms associated with this variant but that's to be determined over the next two weeks.' 

 Travellers in the international arrivals hall of Sydney Airport on Tuesday. 'Australians can still leave, although I would urge you... to be carefully considering the Smartraveller advice,' Mr Morrison said

He hoped the border re-opening to students and skilled migrants will restart on December 15 after a two week pause.

'All of this is done on the presumption that we will recommence from 15 December but medical advice will guide our decision-making throughout,' he said. 

The decision to pause the re-opening was made after a mammoth four-hour national security cabinet meeting of federal ministers on Monday evening.

Professor Kelly said he called for a 'temporary pause' while more data is gathered over the next 14 days. 

'This is a temporary pause so we can get the information we need, but we are committed to continue to reopen. That is the advice and decisions that were made at the NSC last night,' he said.