The border was set to reopen on December 1 for about 200,000 visa holders, including around 160,000 international students and 50,000 skilled workers. Travel bubbles with Japan and South Korea were also due to begin.
Professor Kelly updated state and territory leaders on the Omicron variant on Tuesday afternoon, telling national cabinet there was a clear understanding that at this stage the situation did not require tougher border settings or hotel quarantine requirements.
That advice, on keeping current settings, was broadly accepted by all state and territory leaders.
“The last couple of days have shown us that this isn’t over and our response needs to be nimble,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said his state was well prepared but he was taking the necessary steps to protect the community, as he encouraged people to get vaccinated.
Before the national cabinet meeting, Professor Kelly said the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron was one of the main concerns. While there are clear indications that Omicron is milder than previous variants, more evidence was needed before health experts could be sure.
“We do know it’s transmissible. We don’t know still about the vaccine effectiveness. We don’t know about severity,” Professor Kelly said. “This is a temporary pause so we can get that information that we need.”
Mr Morrison said it was the government’s hope the variant proved to be a milder form of coronavirus.
“We’re not going back to lockdowns, none of us want that,” he said. “What we did last night was protecting against that by having a sensible pause.”
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the decision to defer the reopening was not taken lightly and the government was “acutely aware” of the impact it would have on people, families and businesses.
“We have been very focused on doing all we can to open our international borders as safely but as quickly as we possibly can do,” she said. “I do want to stress that this is a 14-day pause and we are working to ensure that we can open our borders as soon as we possibly can.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia was well-prepared to deal with emerging variants.
“We’re doing this out of an abundance of caution but our overwhelming view is that whilst it’s an emerging variant, it’s a manageable variant,” he said.