Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday announced new travel restrictions and described as serious the situation in Brisbane where a cleaner at a hotel was diagnosed with the highly transmissible UK variant of COVID-19, prompting the authorities to announce a three-day lockdown in the country’s third-largest city.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the lockdown after informing on Twitter that a cleaner working at a Brisbane quarantine hotel had tested positive for the UK strain of COVID-19.
Following a confirmed case of the highly infections UK coronavirus strain, Greater Brisbane will be entering a three day lockdown. From 6pm Friday until 6pm Monday, Local Government Areas of Brisbane, Moreton Bay, Ipswich, Redlands and Logan will enter a three-day lockdown. Stay home and stay safe this weekend, she tweeted.
Your safety is our number one priority. For the next three days, we’re asking people in Greater Brisbane to stay at home. If you need to leave your home, masks are mandatory. If we don’t do this now, it could end up being a 30-day lockdown, she said.
Following the infection in Brisbane, Prime Minister Morrison announced new travel measures in a bid to curb the spread of more infectious strains of COVID-19 in the community, including flight crews now subject to stricter conditions and testing.
Morrison has said 80 per cent of Australians registered overseas were in countries where the new UK mutant strain of COVID-19 was evident.
“And there are other strains as well, as the Chief Medical Officer will set out, which means that this virus continues to write its own rules, and that means that we must continue to be adaptable in how we continue to fight it,” he said.
Morrison said the national Cabinet had approved measures to tighten the end-to-end process of international arrivals, “both from the time of embarkation and entry into the airport, all the way through to the acquittal from the formal quarantine period”.
“What we do know is that this new strain is some 70 per cent more transmissible than the previous strains of the virus. This strain is likely to become, in the very near future, the dominant strain [as it largely already is] in the UK,” he said.
“The idea that it somehow can be contained just out of the United Kingdom is a false hope,” he said, adding that it meant the latest lockdown in Brisbane announced by the Queensland Premier on Friday was very important move.
“The situation in Brisbane is a serious situation. It moves so quickly – far more quickly than previous strains of the virus – and that means we need to give our contact tracers that head start to ensure that they can track down and run down all of the contacts from this individual and ensure that they can be identified,” he said.
Caps on international arrivals in New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland would be reduced by 50 per cent until February 15 this year and overseas travellers must now return a negative COVID-19 test result prior to their departure to Australia, with some exemptions for “extenuating circumstances”.
Morrison said the country had a lot to learn from how the situation in Brisbane played out.
“To lock in these positions would be imprudent. I think we’re going to learn a lot in the next three to five days. The whole world is trying to understand how this new strain works, he said.
“We’ve got a very live example in Brisbane, one of our major cities. Let’s learn what we need to learn over the next few days. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s no need to catastrophise this. But there is a very real need to address it seriously as both the Queensland government is and the Commonwealth government is,” he said.
Announcing the new capping on international arrivals, Morrison said, ”In the smaller jurisdictions – the ACT, the Northern Territory, Tasmania – they are very bespoke arrangements in relation to those airports, and they’ll be settled between the Commonwealth and those jurisdictions specifically.”
“So this is a temporary suspension of those higher levels of intake, as we learn more about what’s happening here and what’s going around the world and this isn’t the only new strain,” he said.
The number of people able to arrive in NSW, WA and Queensland from overseas has been halved while there is no change in Victoria, which is already operating at less than half of its capacity. South Australia will also keep its intake of 490 people each week.
“The purpose here is to both reduce and debulk the risk in terms of exposure to the new strain,” Morrison said.
Yesterday, Morrison also announced Australia could start vaccinating vulnerable groups of the population next month.
The federal government sealed a deal with Novavax for a further 51 million vaccine doses.
”There will be five phases of priority populations as we work through over the course of this year to administer the vaccine, both the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine, Morrison said.
”Those populations in that first phase are quarantine and border workers, front line health officials, as well as those working in aged care and disability care and those in aged care, and disability care residents. We anticipate optimistically that we would hope to start the vaccination with around 80,000 vaccinations a week. That’s what we are targeting,” he said.
Australia on Friday recorded 24 new COVID-19 cases including four locally acquired in NSW.
National death toll from COVID-19 stands at 909.