“How did the Omicron variant get into Australia if the unvaxxed can’t leave or enter?” asks a screenshot of a tweet posted on Facebook in South Africa on 30 November 2021.
“This is where the narrative falls apart. If people can't see it now there is no hope. We have to stand up once and for all or it will never stop.”
The tweet includes a graphic that reads: “Food for thought new variant Omicron arrived in Australia, it can only be brought in by a vaxxed person. The unvaxxed can’t enter!”
It was posted on Facebook with a quote credited to UK prime minister Boris Johnson: “We see some evidence from South Africa that... Omicron is transmitted between people who have been vaccinated, but it's not clear to what extent this means that you're going to get a severe case of Omicron.”
Could the variant have only been spread by fully vaccinated people as they are the only ones allowed to travel? We checked.
Several countries allow unvaccinated to leave and enter
Under Australia’s current travel restrictions, unvaccinated citizens and permanent residents may leave the country if they get a travel exemption. Unvaccinated foreign nationals may also enter the country if they have applied for an exemption on work, research, study or compelling grounds.
Other countries have similar restrictions. The US does not require citizens and permanent residents to present proof of vaccination when travelling to or from the country. Foreign nationals are required to show proof of vaccination, with limited exceptions. Canada also allows unvaccinated citizens to leave and enter the country.
The UK allows unvaccinated travellers to enter the country on condition that they take a Covid-19 test at least two days prior to travel, book and pay for Covid-19 PCR tests after entering the country, complete a passenger locator form, and quarantine at home or the place they are staying for at least 10 days.
And Germany allows travellers to enter as long as they have either proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test or recovery from Covid-19. Those who have proof of vaccination or recovery are not required to quarantine.
But since the identification of Omicron, none of the above countries allow travellers from the southern African countries of Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to enter unless they are citizens or permanent residents.
Transmission between vaccinated possible but vaccines protect against severe illness
Studies on the Omicron variant continue.
The US Center for Disease Control says “breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur”. And the Australian government has reported that two fully vaccinated travellers from southern Africa had tested positive for Omicron.
But medical experts say vaccines are still likely to be effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalisation and death after Omicron infection, as this was the case with earlier variants such as Delta.
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