Australia readies for new virus threat

The national cabinet has agreed to a number of new measures around flight travel in an attempt to guard Australia against highly-infectious mutant strains of the coronavirus now spreading around the world.

The Greater Brisbane region has already gone into a weekend lockdown following the confirmation of a case of the UK COVID-19 variant that has led to a steep rise in infections in England.

News of the lockdown starting at 6pm on Friday sparked panic buying of supplies and long queues at supermarkets and other stores in Brisbane.

Other states have responded to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s decision with varying forms of travel restrictions with Queensland and the move received the full backing of Prime Minister Scott Morrison who said it was “very wise”.

“We know there is only one case, but what we do know is that this new strain is some 70 per cent more transmissible than the previous strains of the virus,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

He had a clear message for Queenslanders involved in the lockdown, saying: “Stay where you are. Don’t go anywhere.”

Mr Morrison was speaking after he met with premiers and first ministers at an an emergency national cabinet meeting by video-link on Friday to discuss the UK virus and other highly contagious variants, as well as the roll-out of the coronavirus vaccine from next month.

The cabinet adopted several new measures around flight travel, including the introduction of pre-flight testing of returning Australians, while masks will be mandatory on all domestic and international flights and at airports.

International arrivals will also be reduced to NSW, Queensland and Western Australia until February 15, rather than blocking flights from certain countries.

The closing off of international flights was considered at the meeting but Mr Morrison said this was not recommended by the national cabinet because Australia still needs to function with vaccines needed to be flown in, as will other critical supplies.

Queensland reported nine new COVID-19 cases in hotel quarantine on Friday, while Victoria reported a sole case, also in quarantine.

Restrictions on suburbs north of Narrabeen Bridge on the NSW northern beaches, and imposed since before Christmas, will be lifted from Sunday.

An additional case linked to the northern beaches cluster was confirmed in the state’s latest reporting period.

There was also one case linked to the Croydon cluster in Sydney’s inner west and two linked to the Berala cluster, along with seven cases in returned travellers.

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