Small businesses are paying close attention to the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant around the world, as shifting border restrictions threaten economic recovery in the travel and hospitality industries.
On Sunday, NSW Health confirmed two passengers who arrived in Sydney the day before via southern Africa and Doha had tested positive to the new strain of coronavirus. In response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called an emergency meeting of the National Cabinet, which the state premiers, chief ministers and the Prime Minister will attend.
“At this stage, I think it’s important that we need to proceed very cautiously, as we are, we’ve moved very quickly to put in place controls,” Morrison told journalists this morning.
Here’s everything small businesses should know about the Omicron variant.
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What border restrictions have changed?
In NSW, Victoria and the ACT, fully vaccinated people returning from overseas must now isolate for 72 hours either in their home or in accommodation.
South Australia has also changed quarantine rules for recent arrivals. International arrivals are now required to quarantine for 14 days instead of seven when returning to the state.
Changes to state quarantine rules come after the federal government announced travel bans on Saturday for non-Australian citizens who have been to nine countries in southern Africa.
Travellers who have visited South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana are not allowed to enter the country.
How will Omicron affect the travel industry?
Speaking to SmartCompany, chair of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents Tom Manwaring noted that the emergence of Omicron has dashed any hopes of international travel rebounding over Christmas.
“There were some very small glimmers of hope for travel to restart through the Christmas period. But last week we already saw Air New Zealand cancel 1000 flights,” Manwaring says.
Since the start of the pandemic, 10,000 travel agents have left the industry, bringing the total number of workers down to 35,000.
Manwaring says if the new variant creates continued restrictions on international travel, it will “wipe the industry out”.
“We’ve been doing refunds for two years now,” he says.
Why are hospitality businesses concerned?
Small businesses in the hospitality industry are worried the emergence of Omicron will hamper the return of workers from overseas.
Cafes, restaurants and pubs around the country have been grappling with a critical staff shortage for some time, which the industry believes would be fixed by the return of workers from overseas.
Wes Lambert, chief executive of the Restaurant and Catering Association, says businesses “are immensely concerned” that the international border will slam shut and the expected return of many visa holders on December 1 will be delayed.
“That certainly will affect summer trading,” Lambert tells SmartCompany.
What has the World Health Organisation said?
The World Health Organisation (WTO) declared the strain a “variant of concern” last Friday.
On Sunday, the WTO updated its advice, saying it is “not yet clear” whether the Omicron variant is more easily spread from person to person or causes more severe symptoms compared to other strains.
Which countries have found cases of Omicron?
Countries including South Africa, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, the UK and Hong Kong have confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.