Political leaders are at odds over the need for compulsory testing of people seeking to return to Australia, as a new UK strain of coronavirus arrives in the country.
WA Premier Mark McGowan on Tuesday confirmed three people in Perth hotel quarantine had been found to have the more transmissible variant after NSW, Victoria and South Australia had all previously recorded cases in returned overseas travellers.
“I think it would be a great safety mechanism to ensure that people coming out of many countries around the world have a test and confirm they are negative before they board a flight with hundreds of other Australians,” he said.
“And I think that safety measure should be implemented. To me, this is a no-brainer.”
The UK variant is believed to be up to 70 per cent more infectious than the original, causing havoc in England and prompting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to order a new national lockdown until at least mid-February.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says mandatory testing of airline passengers is not the answer, as it could give a false sense of confidence on arrival.
“Most of the airlines do it anyway and on all the flights that we’re bringing back to Australia directly as a Commonwealth, we’re doing it,” Mr Morrison told 3AW radio.
“But we should stress that that doesn’t change the risk.
“In some cases the argument is that it can be accentuated, it can highlight it, because people can be asymptomatic … or the virus hasn’t manifested itself yet at the time of travelling and that can create a complacency on the other side.”
Labor health spokesman Chris Bowen said it was important that more Australians were given the opportunity to return home.
“But obviously this new strain in the United Kingdom is concerning,” he said.
“So sensible measures like increased testing … do seem to me to be a sensible, good faith suggestion.”
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said there was “no one silver bullet” to keep the community safe from variant viruses.
“Just because you’re tested a couple of days before you get on the plane, you can develop the infection on the plane, you can develop as you’re getting off the plane, or the next day,” she said.
Another international strain – a South African variant – was detected in a woman who arrived in Queensland on December 22 who went straight into hotel quarantine.
Australia has recorded 95 overseas acquired cases over the past week.
On Tuesday, Victoria recorded three locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and NSW revealed four new local cases.