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Coronavirus

Australia on alert after 1st probable omicron community case

Infected traveler visited Sydney shopping center; search on for contacts

Sydney Airport, on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Two passengers on a flight from Africa have tested positive for the new variant with the "unusual constellation" of mutations.   © AP

SYDNEY (Reuters) -- Australian authorities said on Tuesday that an international traveler who was most likely infected with the Omicron variant has spent time in the community as officials rushed to track the person's close contacts and locations visited.

New South Wales health officials said initial testing "strongly indicates" the traveler who arrived in Sydney last week before the latest border restrictions has been infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The fully vaccinated person visited a busy shopping center in Sydney while likely infectious, officials say. All passengers in the person's flight have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days regardless of their vaccination status.

If confirmed, the total number of cases infected with the new variant in Australia will rise to six. All other cases have been in quarantine and are asymptomatic or display very mild symptoms.

Authorities also said urgent genomic tests have begun to determine whether two other positive cases are infected with the Omicron variant.

The report about the new probable community case comes ahead of a meeting of Australia's national cabinet - a group of federal and state leaders - on Tuesday to review measures aimed at limiting the spread of the variant.

Australia on Monday delayed the reopening of its international borders by two weeks, less than 36 hours before international students and skilled migrants were to be allowed to reenter the country.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday said he would urge state leaders to proceed with plans to open internal borders by Christmas.

"We need to make calm decisions. Don't get spooked by this," Morrison said during a news conference in Canberra.

Omicron, dubbed a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization, is potentially more contagious than previous variants although there are signs it may be milder than initially feared.

Tough border restrictions and snap lockdowns have helped Australia keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with around 210,000 cases and 2,006 deaths.

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