Australians have been told to keep calm despite increasing fears about the new Omicron Covid variant, which has now spread to 15 people across three states and territories.
Speaking to the ABC on Sunday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged Australians to stay the course of the national reopening plan amid widespread anxiety about the new strain.
“I don’t think we should be panicking,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“Everyone should keep their heads and we should be calmly and safely reopening as we have been.”
Mr Frydenberg said that while it was too early to make any conclusive decisions or estimates about the Omicron variant, preliminary investigations suggested it may not be as destructive as originally feared.
“We do know it’s transmissible. Highly transmissible,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“But there’s early signs it may be less severe than the Delta variant.
“And there‘s no evidence as yet that our vaccines are not a defence against it.”
Australians have received mixed messages about the likelihood that our current Covid-19 vaccines will provide less protection from Omicron than earlier variants of the virus.
The chief executive of vaccine manufacturer Moderna last Tuesday said he believed the current jabs were unlikely to be as effective against the new strain.
“There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level … we had with Delta,” Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times.
“I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data.
“But all the scientists I’ve talked to are like ‘this is not going to be good’.”
But Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly has been more optimistic, echoing Mr Frydenberg’s emphasis on the “mild” symptoms shown in those who have become infected with the new variant.
“We do not have any evidence at the moment either in the laboratory in clinical studies or from a population-wide basis that there is a problem with the vaccines – as far as we know the vaccines work,” he said last week.
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall announced on Saturday his state would consider closing its borders to NSW, Victoria and the ACT with just 24 hours notice.
But on Sunday, Mr Marshall declared SA’s border would remain open with new testing requirements with travellers from NSW, Victoria and the ACT.
Mr Frydenberg told the ABC he had spoken to the SA Premier that morning, and was happy with Mr Marshall’s decision not to shut his borders.
“I spoke to Steven Marshall this morning. He‘s keeping his borders open. He understands how important it for families to be reunited at Christmas,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“He‘s taken that decision himself. He understands the importance of the economy of keeping those borders open.”
Mr Marshall said his decision did not mean SA was no longer on high-alert about the potential danger of the new variant.
“We remain extraordinarily concerned about the Omicron threat,” he said.