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An Air China plane takes off from Sydney Airport on Dec. 1. Australia has now recorded its first confirmed Omicron infection of a person who had not travelled overseas.LOREN ELLIOTT/Reuters

Australia on Friday reported its first community transmission of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, but authorities held steady on a plan to reopen the economy amid hopes it would prove to be milder than previous strains.

The new case, a school student from Sydney, was the first confirmed Omicron infection of a person who had not travelled overseas, a sign the variant was now in the community, said the authorities of New South Wales state.

But they refrained from changing course as the country’s most populous state continues a staged reopening after the earlier, more virulent Delta strain resulted in a lockdown of more than four months.

“Transmission is always a concern but we again need to keep it in perspective,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters.

“Worldwide there is no clarity around whether this particular variant is going to cause us anywhere near the problems that the earlier variants caused us,” he added.

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Australia now has nine confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, eight in NSW, where a third of the country’s 25 million people live. Although some states have tightened domestic border controls, the federal government has said it has no plans to return to the stop-start lockdowns that defined the country’s pandemic response from the start.

The federal government, too, postponed by two weeks a plan to let foreign students and skilled migrants into the country. Australians returning from southern Africa also must complete two weeks of hotel quarantine.

Asked if the federal government would stop targeting arrivals from southern Africa, now that the new variant was no longer limited to people who had been there, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said “we will continue to review the medical advice, but we follow it because it has kept Australia safe.”

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, the government’s top health adviser, meanwhile said the country would not recommend bringing forward vaccine booster shots, as other countries have done, since “there is no evidence to suggest that an earlier booster dose of the current COVID-19 vaccines will augment the protection against the Omicron variant.”

Australia’s aggressive COVID-19 response has helped it avoid the high numbers of COVID-19 deaths recorded in many other countries, with about 212,000 cases and 2,000 deaths.

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