Did travel restrictions for unvaccinated individuals in Australia make it impossible for the omicron variant to enter the country? No, that's not true: Unvaccinated individuals can enter the country by following the guidelines of the state where they arrive. They can leave the country by applying for a travel exemption. Vaccinated Australians -- who could travel freely before the emergence of the omicron variant and, at the time of writing, are restricted from traveling to several African countries associated with the variant -- can still transmit the variant. This is because no vaccination is completely effective in preventing the targeted disease from being contracted or transmitted, even though vaccination does greatly lower the risk of contraction or transmission.
The claim was implied in a screenshot included in a Facebook post (archived here) published on November 29, 2021. The screenshot reads:
How did the Omicron variant get into Australia if the unvaxxed can't leave or enter?
This is where the narrative falls apart. If people can't see if now there is no hope. We have to stand up once and for all or it will never stop.
This is what the post looked like on Facebook on December 6, 2021:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Mon Dec 6 16:47 2021 UTC)
The Facebook post's assertion that unvaccinated people cannot leave or enter the country is not entirely correct. Unvaccinated Australians can leave the country if they are approved for a travel exemption. Travel guidelines for entering the country appear to be decided by the state where the traveler is arriving. Lead Stories asked the Australian Department of Home Affairs for more information about entering the country while unvaccinated and will update this fact check with any relevant response. Non-Australian travelers must have a travel exemption to enter Australia regardless of their vaccination status.
Undercutting the assumption expressed in the Facebook post is this fact: the first omicron cases detected in Australia appeared in two fully vaccinated travelers who arrived in Sydney on November 27, 2021. The asymptomatic travelers flew in from southern Africa and were isolated after their positive COVID-19 test results. Fully vaccinated individuals are still at risk for contraction and transmission of the coronavirus, even though the severity of such cases is usually lessened. This means that it would not take an unvaccinated individual to transmit COVID in Australia.
According to the Australian government's guidelines for vaccinated travelers, Australians who are fully vaccinated by the country's standards can travel to and from Australia without applying for a travel exemption. However, Australia put a travel restriction in place against several countries in southern Africa around the geographic location where the omicron variant was first identified. Information on the restriction is included in the screenshot below:
(Source: Australian Government Department of Home Affairs screenshot taken on Mon Dec 6 17:34 2021 UTC)
Australia is not the only country to put a travel restriction in place against southern African countries. However, such restrictions have been discouraged by the World Health Organization, which suggested that such restrictions are not based on science if not rooted in testing and other data.
Australian health officials on December 3, 2021announced a cluster of COVID cases was found at a school in Sydney. An omicron variant case identified from this cluster was the first omicron variant case in Australia in which the individual infected did not contract the disease from international travel.
This means the variant is a public health concern that extends beyond travellers into and out of the country.