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
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