Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed on Monday that the country's borders will open as planned for some visa holders this week.
He said that from Dec. 15 foreign students and skilled workers will be able to enter Australia for the first time since March 2020 subject to quarantine requirements in their state or territory of arrival.
The borders were initially set to reopen on Dec. 1 but the change was delayed for two weeks amid concerns over the new Omicron variant of Covid-19. Hunt said Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and the international evidence were cautiously optimistic that the Omicron variant "is showing clear signs of being milder."
"The strong, clear evidence is that all of the vaccines continue to provide very clear coverage against serious illness, hospitalisation and loss of life," he told reporters. "As a variant, it may well be milder. And that
could turn out, as many international sources have indicated, to be a quietly positive development for the world.
" The minister also announced that telehealth services, which have allowed Australians to consult with doctors remotely during the pandemic, will be made permanent.
More than 16 million Australians have used telehealth for 86 million appointments during the pandemic. "It came about because of the pandemic, but it has changed the way Australians are able to access healthcare,"
Hunt said. Australia reported more than 1,800 new locally-acquired coronavirus cases and two deaths on Monday as the country continues to battle the third wave of infections.
The majority of new cases were in Victoria, the country's second-most populous state with Melbourne as the capital city, where 1,290 cases were reported. Queensland, Australia's third-most populous state, has reopened its borders to vaccinated travelers from the Covid-hit New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory for the first time since August.
As of Sunday 93.3 percent of Australians aged 16 and over had received one vaccine dose and 89.2 percent were fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Health.