As highly infectious mutant strains of COVID-19 spread globally, Australia is fighting hard to keep them at bay.
Victoria, NSW and the Northern Territory all revealed positive cases of the virulent UK strain in hotel quarantine on January 9, while Brisbane and surrounding communities were in lockdown because of one locally acquired UK strain case.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Saturday Australians should assume mutated COVID-19 variants emanating from the United Kingdom and South Africa will become the world’s dominant strains due to their contagiousness.
She also said mask usage is likely to be mandatory in her state for the foreseeable future.
NSW Health on Saturday revealed a traveller who arrived in Sydney on December 21 tested positive with the UK strain and was discharged from quarantine on January 5.
Genomic testing indicating they had the UK strain was received two days later on January 7, prompting a re-test. The person tested positive but results indicated they had low levels of infection.
The individual was returned to special health accommodation as a precaution and the locations they have visited have been added to NSW Health’s list of exposure sites.
In Victoria, a woman who flew into Melbourne from London on December 26 tested positive for the UK strain and was released on day 10 after being medically cleared.
She tested positive again on Friday in her home state of Queensland, but authorities say her infectiousness is low.
“You can continue to shed virus for up to 120 days after you’re no longer infectious,” Victorian health minister Martin Foley said.
In the NT, a woman who arrived from London on December 30 tested positive for the UK strain and remains in quarantine. No fellow passengers or crew on her flight have tested positive.
On Friday, the national cabinet made key decisions to guard Australia against mutant strains of the coronavirus now spreading globally.
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 be limited 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 Morrison said this was not recommended by the national cabinet because Australia still needs to function with vaccines and other critical supplies needed to be flown in.
Greater Brisbane residents remain in lockdown until 6pm Monday, while other states and territories have placed restrictions on travel to and from Queensland’s capital and surrounding areas.
Northern beaches residents north of the Narrabeen Bridge will be freed from restrictions from Sunday.
On Saturday there were 11 new virus cases recorded nationally – six in NSW, three in SA and one each in Victoria and WA. All but one locally acquired case in Sydney are returned travellers in hotel quarantine.
Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan highlighted Australia’s suppression record on Saturday, citing 840,000 fresh coronavirus cases recorded worldwide in the past 24 hours.
For Victoria, Saturday was the third consecutive day of no locally acquired cases and the government has said it is confident about ring-fencing the Black Rock cluster which numbers 27 cases.
The Victorian government said 96 residents arrived from Queensland hot spots on Saturday in spite of the state’s Friday 11.59pm border closure to that region.
The arrivals have been asked to quarantine at home until Monday 6pm.
Andi Yu in Canberra