By TILEAH DOBSON
Just when we had adjusted to the realities of the Delta variant of Covid-19, a new strain has now arrived in Australia. Dubbed the Omicron variant, this new evolution of Covid-19 was first detected in South Africa and was declared a ‘variant of concern’ (VOC) by the World Health Organisation (WHO) last weekend.
While it is still unclear whether Omicron is more transmissible than Delta or how it will impact vaccine immunity, what causes Omicron to be labelled a VOC is the large number of mutations in its spike protein.
At time of writing, there were six known cases of Omicron within Australia, with five in NSW and one in the NT. In response, the NSW Government has released precautionary measures and increased penalties for non-compliance with Covid measures, as it works with the Australian Government.
In line with Commonwealth measures, all travellers arriving in NSW who have been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and Malawi within 14-days of their arrival, must enter hotel quarantine for 14 days, no matter their vaccination status.
For travellers entering the state outside of the named countries, they must undergo a PCR test and isolate for 72 hours at a nominated address or accommodation. Travellers will only be able to leave after receiving a negative test at the end of the isolation period.
Other measures included in the Omicron update include a stipulation that all unvaccinated travellers from any overseas country will go into quarantine.
In order to protect the community, the NSW Government has also increased fines for non-compliance with Covid rules. Those who refuse to isolate, quarantine, and get tested will be fined $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for corporations.
These new rules took effect from December 1, 2021, at 12:01 am.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has defended the new measures as a precaution against the still largely unknown Omicron variant.
“We are well prepared here in NSW, but it is important we take the necessary steps to protect the community and adopt measures that will allow us to learn to live with Covid,” Perrottet said.
“We will continue to make any necessary changes as we receive updated information. Our overriding message, as always, is to continue to get vaccinated. It is still the best way to protect yourself and your family.”
The government has stressed that anyone who has recently returned from the named countries in Southern Africa must get tested immediately and isolate, and call NSW Health on 1800 943 533.
NSW Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard has encouraged residents to get their booster shots.
“If you are eligible for a booster, please make a booking and get the jab. As we continue to reopen and avoid lockdowns, booster shots are our best defence against what can be a deadly virus,” Hazzard said.
He added: “I would warn anyone who think they can skip the isolation requirements to think twice – we are taking this new variant incredibly seriously. Police and health officials will be on the front foot to ensure compliance and significant penalties will apply for anyone found to be breaking the rules.”
Tileah Dobson is the news editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
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