Australia’s Omicron travel ban is ‘discrimination’, South African diplomat says

Australia’s travel ban to several southern African countries due to the outbreak of the Omicron variant has been labelled as discriminatory by a senior diplomat.

South Africa’s high commissioner to Australia, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, said the ban needed to be overturned due to large numbers of Omicron cases being detected in other continents and not just in parts of Africa.

“We believe it is discrimination, because the only difference is these countries [on the travel ban list] are on the African continent,” he told ABC Radio on Monday. “The ban is unfair, there is no evidence the ban works, the World Health Organization confirms that.”

The travel ban to nine southern African nations was announced in the wake of the Omicron variant being detected. It also led to a two-week delay to the entry of visa holders without a medical exemption, which is now set to take place from 15 December.

Despite the pause on international arrivals, 250 fully vaccinated students will arrive on Monday in Sydney as part of a New South Wales government pilot program. The arrivals will still need to isolate in student accommodation for three days.

There have been 15 cases of Omicron detected in NSW, while two have been identified in the Australian Capital Territory and one in the Northern Territory.

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The finance minister, Simon Birmingham, said while the government had been cautious about the arrival of Omicron, the steps were necessary to assess the situation.

“It seems that plenty of advisers are indicating that vaccines continue to provide strong levels of protection, and it is why people should get vaccinated if they haven’t done so already,” Birmingham told ABC TV.

“We’re now at the point where we’re one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world.”