(Australian Associated Press)
Skilled migrants and international students can return to Australia from Wednesday, when travel bubbles with Japan and South Korea kick off.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed a two-week pause on Australia’s international reopening will end as scheduled.
This means travel bubbles with Japan and South Korea, pushed back because of concerns about the Omicron COVID-19 variant, can also go ahead.
The prime minister emphasised Australia’s education and tourism ties with South Korea during a visit by that country’s president Moon Jae-in to Canberra.
Mr Morrison said he looked forward to welcoming back some 20,000 Korean students who would ordinarily come to Australia to study.
“The borders will be reopened both to Korea and to Japan, and for skilled migration and for students, as we conclude the pause that we announced several weeks ago,” he told reporters on Monday.
Mr Moon hoped the travel bubble would lead to a greater exchange and economic revitalisation between the two nations.
“For Korean people who are fully vaccinated, I appreciate that the Australian government will grant a quarantine-free entry starting from December 15,” he said.
It comes as Australia brings forward booster shots by a month because of concerns about the Omicron variant.
Adults can now get a third dose five months after their second shot as Moderna is approved to join Pfizer as a booster option.
Health Minister Greg Hunt indicated the government would make further changes to its booster program if recommended by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
He was encouraged by evidence showing Omicron led to a milder illness despite being more transmissible.
“That could turn out, as many international sources have indicated, to be a quietly positive development for the world,” Mr Hunt said.
NSW on Monday recorded 536 COVID-19 infections, while Victoria reported 1290 cases and two more deaths.
Queensland had one new locally acquired case as it opened its border to fully vaccinated people from interstate.
The state also recorded another nine cases, all but two from interstate arrivals, in hotel quarantine.
Western Australia indicated it was willing to open its borders from February 5, when the state is likely to have reached 90 per cent fully vaccinated.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said the state was moving into a new phase of pandemic management, with the border reopening date locked in to provide certainty.
“We can safely ease border controls and reconnect WA. I am confident this is the right time and the right way to take this important step,” he said.
WA on Monday passed the 80 per cent double vaccinated rate for state residents 12 and over.
Meanwhile, the Northern Territory recorded 17 new infections, taking a cluster in Katherine to 87.
Another case was suspected in a resident from the nearby town of Binjari who visited the community of Timber Creek.
Anyone who had been in Katherine since November 29 was required to get tested in a bid to contain the spread.
South Australia reported 13 new infections and the ACT three.
Across the country, slightly more than 98 per cent of people aged 16 and older are double-dosed.
Doherty Institute director Sharon Lewin stressed booster shots made a significant difference in protection against Omicron.
“All of that information that’s coming in is suggesting that Omicron looks milder, but people that have been vaccinated with just two doses are less protected than they were from Delta,” she told ABC radio.