Australia on Saturday imposed new restrictions on people who have been in nine Southern African countries, as the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 raises concerns about a further wave of the pandemic.

Effective immediately, the government will ban non-citizens from the countries from entering country and will require 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens and their dependents returning from the countries, said Health Minister Greg Hunt.

The countries are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana,Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.

“Anyone who is not a citizen of Australia or their dependents, and who has been in African countries where the Omicron variant has been detected and spread within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia,” he said.

The discovery of the virus – which has a spike protein dramatically different from the one that existing vaccines are based on – triggered global alarm on Friday as countries rushed to suspend travel from Southern Africa and stock markets suffered their biggest falls in more than a year.

Australia early this month eased its international border restrictions for the first time during the pandemic allowing fully vaccinated residents to return to the country without quarantine after higher vaccination levels.

Australia had largely stamped out infections for most of this year until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in late June spread rapidly across its east.

About 205 000 cases and 1 985 deaths have been recorded so far, lower than many other countries in the developed world