Australia Tightens Border Controls on U.K. Covid Strain Threat

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All international travelers must return a negative Covid-19 test before they can board a flight to Australia under tightened border controls aimed at stopping the U.K. strain of the coronavirus from spreading.

Passengers must wear masks on all international flights to Australia and on domestic routes, and international air crew will be tested on arrival in the country, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Friday after an emergency meeting of the National Cabinet. The government will also reduce the number of people allowed to arrive each week -- prolonging the task of relocating tens of thousands of Australians waiting to return home.

“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.

Australia already has some of the most stringent controls in the world, shuttering the border to non-residents since March and requiring returned overseas travelers to isolate for 14 days in a quarantine hotel. The system has been pivotal to Australia’s success in curbing the virus -- but has also proved to be a chink in its armor, with several instances of the virus escaping into the community via infected quarantine hotel cleaners, security guards or workers tasked with transporting passengers from airports.

Authorities fear such breaches could increase with the more-transmissible U.K. Covid-19 variant. Queensland state on Friday imposed a three-day lockdown of its capital, Brisbane, to prevent an outbreak after a cleaner at a quarantine hotel in the city was infected with the U.K. strain.

All quarantine workers in Australia will now be subjected to daily testing, Morrison said.

Residents across Greater Brisbane will have to stay home except for essential work, services and exercise until Monday evening, and wear masks if they do go out, Queensland state Premier Annastacia Pałaszczuk told reporters Friday.

“What we are seeing in the U.K. and other places around the world is high rates of infection from this particular strain,” she said. “We must act immediately, we must act strongly.”

Preliminary analysis suggests the variant is up to 70% more transmissible than other circulating strains and contributing to a spike in cases in the U.K. Cases have been identified in more than 30 countries including the U.S., Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Singapore and South Korea.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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