Australians are nervously waiting to see whether Christmas holiday plans will be ruined once again as concerns grow about the new Omicron Covid variant.
However, most experts at this stage say a new round of lockdowns and border closures will not be necessary.
Health authorities are racing to gather information on the new 'variant of concern', which is thought to be more transmissible and more vaccine-resistant that previous mutations of the virus.
Three travellers from southern Africa who arrived in Sydney on Saturday are believed to have have tested positive with the variant. Meanwhile, the Federal Government has announced non-Australian citizens who have been in nine countries in southern Africa where Omicron has been detected are barred from entering Australia.
NSW and Victoria also announced that all other overseas arrivals into the state are now required to get tested and isolate for 72 hours at their accommodation or place of residence.
The UK, the EU, U.S., Israel and Singapore have also imposed restrictions on travellers from the region.
Non-Australian citizens who have been in nine countries in southern Africa where Omicron has been detected are barred from entering Australia. Pictured: A passenger undergoes a Covid-19 test at Sydney Airport
Countries with cases of the Omicron variant had been detected, including three travellers from southern Africa who arrived in Sydney on Saturday and tested positive
Australians are on tenterhooks at the thought of new Covid variant Omicron laying waste to their summer holiday plans just as domestic borders being to re-open
Six reasons Omicron won't ruin your end-of-year holidays
1. Australia's high vaccination rate
As of November 28, Australia has 92.3 percent of its population over 16 with one dose of a Covid vaccine, and 86.7 percent fully vaccinated. While it's not yet known how resistant Omicron might be to Covid vaccines, the overwhelming majority of those being hospitalised in African countries where the variant is present are unvaccinated.
2. International border restrictions introduced early
The almost immediate closure of the Australian border to people from the area where the variant is prevalent, plus new testing and isolation rules for international arrivals, will hopefully prevent the spread of Omicron in Australia. A similar response to the Delta variant took much longer, eventually leading to extended lockdowns in Greater Sydney and Greater Melbourne.
3. Illness in early cases of Omicron not as severe
Initial early reports from southern Africa suggest Omicron causes only mild illness in vaccinated people who contract the variant. The revelation led former deputy chief health officer Dr Nick Coatsworth to suggest it would actually be an advantage for Omicron to spread through the community.
'You want it to out compete Delta and become the predominant circulating virus,' he said. 'It could be that we want Omicron to spread around the world as quickly as possible.'
Former deputy chief health officer Dr Nick Coatsworth suggest it would actually be an advantage for Omicron to spread through the community if the illness from the variant is not severe in vaccinated people
4. Reluctance to reintroduce restrictive measures such as lockdowns
Widespread public protests against Covid restrictions and issues such as mandatory vaccination are one indicating that Australians' tolerance for further public health orders such as lockdowns and prolonged border closures are waning.
While states such as Queensland and Western Australia are not committing to border reopening schedules should a new Covid outbreak occur in another state, it will be a brave politician who ruins the holiday plans of thousands based on previously announced dates when borders will open.
5. New vaccines addressing the variant can quickly be created
Next generation vaccines that address issues posed by mutations such as Omicron from companies such as Pfizer are on the way or can be produced quickly, based on the earlier mrRNA Covid vaccines.
'That is the benefit of these mRNAs vaccines... you can take out of it the messenger RNA dedicated to a particular type of variant and replace it with something updated with the variant circulating,' Deakin University's Catherine Bennett told the ABC.
'That is why what we are doing at the borders is important to buy some time as we learn more [about Omicron] over the next few weeks.'
6. Australia's Covid vaccine booster program
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia could be confident about its response to Omicron because our 'whole-of-country' booster program was one of the earliest in the world to be implemented, after Israel, with over 415,000 boosters already delivered.
Mr Hunt said he had asked ATAGI to consider whether the timeframe for fully vaccinated people to receive a Covid booster earlier than six months after their second shot should be brought forward.
'We have a group of just over 500,000 that are due so, it's an extraordinary turn-up for boosters, well ahead of expectations, well ahead of schedule,' Mr Hunt said.
Australians are on tenterhooks at the thought of new Covid variant Omicron laying waste to their summer holiday plans, just as domestic borders had - or are due to - re-open after this year's Delta outbreaks.
Should Omicron arrive in Australia and spread rapidly, the concern is not only that some state premiers will reinstate border closures and lockdowns, but unvaccinated people will overload public health systems.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the discovery of a new variant was 'not a surprise'.
'I think what is important is we stay calm,' he said on Monday about Omicron.
'Australia is 86.7 per cent vaccinated. We have got our public hospital system and our health systems have been standing up very well.
'I mean, down in Victoria there's over 1,000 cases a day. Our hospital system is coping.
'It's no longer about cases and how we're managing Covid. It's about the severity of the illness the people have and how the public hospital system and the health system is managing. It's managing very strongly.
'With this variant, we know it could be more transmissible. But we also know it's proving to be less severe.'
Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said on Sunday that Omicron did not mean Australia was going 'back to square one' in terms of Covid restrictions.
While acknowledging the variant appeared highly transmissible and was now the 'predominant' strain in southern Africa, he said it would takes days and weeks to determine how severe illness from the variant was and whether vaccines reduced its infection rate.
'I think what is important is we stay calm,' Prime Minister Scott Morrison said of Omicron on Monday. Pictured: Passengers undergo Covid-19 tests at the Histopath Diagnostic Specialists pre-departure area at Sydney International Airport
Queensland’s acting chief health officer Dr Peter Aitken, however, was reluctant to guarantee the state's current commitment to reopening its border (pictured) at 80 per cent of Queensland's eligible population fully vaccinated if Omicron took hold in Australia
Queensland’s acting chief health officer Dr Peter Aitken, however, was reluctant to guarantee the state's current commitment to reopening its border at 80 per cent of Queensland's eligible population fully vaccinated, or that quarantine restrictions would not be imposed on travellers from other states if Omicron spread in Sydney, for instance.
'We’ll make that decision when there’s evidence available that needs a change in position. But at this stage there's no evidence available to support a change in position,' he said.
A NSW Health Department spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia that the state's health system would 'deal with whatever comes our way, as we have done throughout the pandemic'.
'Anyone who needs care in NSW will continue to receive it, as is always the case.'
State premiers such as NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and even Victoria's Daniel Andrews had also promised there would be more more state or city-wide Covid lockdowns, in keeping with the national plan to incrementally do away with such restrictions at the 70, 80 and 90 per cent full vaccination thresholds.
Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett wrote in a column for The Herald-Sun at the weekend that Australia's high vaccination coverage means a best-case scenario for Australia is that Omicron 'does not pose a threat of rapid spread, more serious illness or treatment failure'.
'Keeping this variant at the border is our best protection from more drastic control measures should we decide this variant poses too great a threat once already in the community.'
Other experts are urging reapplying stricter quarantine measures for international travellers until the Omicron variant is contained or better understood.
'Travel bans will be of limited effectiveness now that the Omicron variant has spread beyond southern Africa,' Tweeted epidemiologist Dr Zoë Hyde.
'Australia must reintroduce a quarantine system for all overseas arrivals, and keep it in place until the global situation stabilises. Let’s not throw our hard work away.'
Mr Morrison said national cabinet would be convened 'today or tomorrow' to discuss the latest information on the new variant, while the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee is meeting every day to keep tabs on Omicron.
The Federal government is reconsidering allowing international student visa-holders and skilled workers to being arriving back in Australia from Wednesday, December 1, in light of the latest variant.
The nine nations Australia is restricting travel from for the next 14 days are South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Mozambique and Malawi.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, one of the first South African doctors to identify the variant, said while Omicron appeared highly transmissible, the illness it produced did not as yet appear as severe as earlier Covid variants.
'The hype that's been created currently out there doesn't correlate with the clinical picture,' she said.
'There is no reason for panicking as we don't see severely ill patients,' Dr Coetzee said.