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Debunk: How did Omicron get to Australia if no one is allowed in or out?

Hint: They are. The variant was first detected from passengers arriving in Australia from abroad.

THE OMICRON VARIANT and its spread to Australia has inspired Covid sceptic social media posts.

Several iterations of the same post asking ‘How did Omicron get to Australia if no one is allowed in or out of Australia‘ have been shared across at least three different platforms – Twitter, Facebook and Telegram.

Screenshot 2021-12-06 at 16.35.28 Facebook post asking how the variant entered Australia. Source: Facebook

Comments underneath suggest this is evidence the variant is ‘BS’ and proof ‘They can’t keep up with their lies at this stage.’ 

One tweet with over 60,000 likes added more detail on Australian border restrictions by asking ‘How did the Omicron variant get into Australia if the unvaxxed can’t leave or enter?’

Screenshot 2021-12-06 at 16.33.43 Source: Twitter

It went on to suggest the variant’s appearance in Australia should be a call to action.

“This is where the narrative falls apart. If people can’t see it now there is no hope. We have to stand up once and for all or it will never stop,” the tweet read. 

The tweet then migrated to Facebook where it was reposted over 130 times on Irish, Malaysian, Australian, American and Canadian pages clocking up 35,000 interactions.

These posts questioned the legitimacy of the variant to a large international audience by asking how it spread into a country with strict border controls. 

But actually, how strict are they?

The Evidence.

The first post we examined claimed ‘no one is allowed in or out of Australia.’ But that’s wrong, they are. 

Australia did close its borders at the beginning of the pandemic but only to non-citizens and non-residents. Australian citizens and others with exemptions were able to arrive into Australia subject to fulfilling additional requirements including mandatory hotel quarantine and testing. While this measure and others including limiting weekly arrival numbers proved prohibitive to some returning Australians for reasons such as costs, legally they have always been allowed to enter the country. 

From 1 November, fully vaccinated Australian citizens and others exempt from the border restrictions were able to return home without hotel quarantine if they were flying into certain states. Not all states have reduced hotel quarantine requirements but currently two of Australia’s most populous states allow international travellers to isolate at home for 72 hours instead if certain conditions are met. 

However, after the local detection of the Omicron variant travellers from certain southern African countries must enter 14-day supervised quarantine regardless of vaccine status.  

As of 1 November fully vaccinated Australians and permanent residents were also able to leave the country again without applying for an exemption. They were able to travel out of the country during the pandemic but only under certain conditions and with government permission. 

But what about the unvaccinated? Unvaccinated travellers can still enter Australia however they must complete 14 days of mandatory hotel quarantine on their arrival. Unvaccinated Australians can still leave the country but they must apply for an exemption first. 

While hotel quarantine in Australia is one of the strictest in the world in terms of what guests can and can’t do, it doesn’t completely prevent Covid-19 cases from getting into the community. An entire outbreak in Melbourne was traced back to a passenger in hotel quarantine while a government inquiry was established into how cases slipped through the system into the community. In Sydney a quarantine hotel worker and a driver transporting aircrew tested positive. 

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So yes, people are allowed in and out of Australia. Even before restrictions lifted in September when the country saw the lowest number of departures on record there was 18,840 arrivals and 30,330 departures. 

Even with Australia’s strict border controls, it is still possible for the variant to enter as the other strains before it. The first cases of Omicron detected in Australia were from international passengers travelling from southern African countries where the variant is prevalent. A third passenger travelling from South Africa tested positive in a quarantine facility. While the first case of community transmission has been reported in Australia, initial cases have been traced back to passengers arriving into the country from abroad.

In short, people are travelling in and out of Australia and some of them had the variant, explaining its arrival down under. 

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