Urgent national cabinet meeting called over growing Omicron crisis

The reopening of the border has been delayed by at least two weeks

Urgent national cabinet meeting called over growing Omicron crisis

Australia has confirmed its sixth case of Omicron in the community, and leaders will be attending an urgent national cabinet meeting today to discuss the crisis.

A woman in her 30s has been confirmed as the sixth case, with cases in NSW and the Northern Territory also confirmed yesterday. She arrived from South Africa on Saturday, and is understood to have visited a number of venues on the NSW Central Coast while infectious.

Australia was planning to relax its border restrictions this week, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a two week delay on vaccinated students, skilled workers and travellers travelling into the country, calling the move a “prudent and temporary pause.”

“We don’t know enough yet about (Omicron), and the advice that I received at the National Security Committee was that this temporary pause will provide the opportunity to understand and learn more about this,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“It is not a reason to step back.”

“We hope Omicron would prove to be a more moderate form of the virus,” he said. “If that is the case, then we can continue to press forward because what we are trying to do is remain safely open.”

The news will be tough for employers waiting on overseas students and workers to enter the country, and many will be waiting anxiously to hear the outcome of today’s national cabinet meeting. The border decision will affect many skilled, student, humanitarian, working holiday and provisional family visa holders, all of whom will now not be able to enter Australia until at least December 15.

The Australian border has been closed since early 2020, and employers have been hit by labour shortages as a result of the prolonged closure. The information technology, health and disability, restaurant and hospitality sectors are among the most affected.

IdentityWA chief executive Marina Re said the care sector has been struggling for workers throughout the pandemic, and the closed border and vaccination mandates have both put increased pressure on resources.

“It is a bit of a perfect storm,” Re told ABC News.

“It’s as bad as it’s ever been. I see it as a crisis at the moment in terms of being able to identify and recruit staff to work with us.”

“This time of year, we do lose some of our students who work with us, who move onto their full time careers,” she added.

“And obviously the issue with the borders being closed, we have very limited access to overseas students who also form an important part of our casual workforce. It’s not an ideal situation.”

Omicron has been dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation, and although its symptoms may be milder compared to other variants, it is also potentially more infectious.

Professor Paul Kelly said that further work is now being undertaken to try to understand the new variant, and to prepare the country for further spread within the community.

“We cannot keep this Omicron variant out of Australia forever,” he said.

“Eventually, it will be here. Most importantly, now we do what we can to slow down that introduction, and all of the measures that have been introduced will assist with that.”

Recent articles & video

Mind the gap: The state of Australia's gender pay divide

How to manage an employee who is not performing

This city's HR leaders worry about 'underwhelming budget' for local businesses

WA's new subcontractor protection laws take effect

Most Read Articles

Major businesses switch to work-from-home amid latest COVID-19 health advice

Employer under probe over $700k underpayment to its workers

Labour and legal groups react to FDV paid leave