‘Stay where you are’: PM’s plan to stop UK mutant spread
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has unveiled new flight rules to curb the spread of a highly contagious new strain of the coronavirus, as he backed the Brisbane lockdown and urged affected residents to stay where they are.
At a national cabinet meeting, leaders agreed to pre-flight coronavirus testing for people travelling to Australia (bar green zone countries, currently NZ), while the number of international arrivals in NSW, Western Australia and Queensland will be halved until February 15.
The measures were given the green light by national cabinet on Friday in a bid to combat the spread of a highly contagious COVID strain that has wreaked havoc in the UK.
Scott Morrison warned it was a "false hope" the strain could be contained in Britain.
The Prime Minister welcomed Queensland's decision to place Brisbane under a three-day lockdown after a case of the strain was confirmed in the city.
"I know they will be some in Brisbane today asking why is this necessary? There is only one case. Well, this isn't any ordinary case. This is a very special case and one that requires us to treat things quite differently until we know more," he said.
"We need to give our contact tracers a head start to ensure that they can track down and run down all of the contacts from this individual.
"In Brisbane, we're dealing with a different situation. There are many unknowns and uncertainties in relation to the new strain, and so that's why this precautionary approach, we believe, is very sensible."
Mr Morrison said the measure had the support of the federal government, the chief medical officer, and all state and territory leaders.
He urged all Brisbane residents to comply with the measures to avoid a rapid spread.
"Don't go home to another state or any other part of your state. Over the next few days, stay where you are. If you're somewhere else and you are planning to go there, don't," he said.
"This is something we can't allow to get ahead of us … I believe this is a proportionate response to the very real risk."
Passengers on Commonwealth charter flights are already required to take a pre-flight COVID-19 test.
However, all travellers to Australia must now return a negative test result prior to departure.
Mr Morrison said there would be exemptions for people in extenuating circumstances as well as seasonal workers from "amber-risk" countries where testing is limited.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said the precautions were necessary, with overseas arrivals the biggest virus risk facing Australia.
"It's a dangerous world out there. It's become clearer now that particular strain is more transmissible ... That's the issue," Professor Kelly said.
"This is a moment for Australia to take notice, and as we did about a year ago, some of these drastic actions may seem like we're changing things rapidly.
"There's a reason for that, there's science behind it. It's about keeping Australians safe."
Mask wearing will also become mandatory in all domestic airports within Australia over the next week, but children and people with exemptions will not be required to wear them on domestic flights.
Passengers should wear masks while in international airports overseas, and international aircrew must undergo a COVID-19 test in Australia every seven days or on arrival.
National cabinet will not be increasing the number of international repatriation flights coming into Australia.
Leaders also agreed on a new testing standard for quarantine workers, including those involved in transporting guests. Under the changes, testing will now be conducted daily instead of every seven days.
Leaders also agreed that they would now meet every fortnight, or more often, if required.
Mr Morrison said the government's plan to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine in late February, earlier than initially scheduled, had been well received by national cabinet.
He refused to commit to extending support such as JobKeeper beyond March despite the Brisbane lockdown.
BRISBANE PLUNGED INTO LOCKDOWN
It comes after greater Brisbane will enter a three day lockdown in a bid to contain a potential outbreak of a mutant strain of COVID-19.
Residents in Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, Moreton Bay and Redlands council areas will enter a strict three day lockdown from 6pm on Friday until 6pm on Monday.
It comes as the state recorded zero local virus cases and nine in hotel quarantine.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was taking the drastic measure to prevent further spread of the highly contagious strain.
Residents of Greater Brisbane will only be allowed to leave their home for four reasons, and will have to wear a mask when they are outside their home.
"We are doing this to make sure we are keeping Queenslanders safe," Ms Palaszczuk said.
"These are tough, strong measures but this strain is incredibly infectious … I am declaring Greater Brisbane a hotspot, and I am also asking my colleagues to declare us a hotspot until we get through this together.
For the next three days, funerals will be limited to 20 people, weddings to 10, and authorities have urged people not to go to non-essential businesses, including gyms.
Greater Brisbane residents will be allowed to leave their homes for essential work, to shop for essentials, to provide essential care, and for exercise.
It comes after quarantine hotel worker who tested positive to COVID-19 has been confirmed to have the more contagious UK strain.
The female worker, who is a cleaner aged in her 20s and lives in the suburb of Algester in Brisbane, tested positive to the virus on Wednesday night, the Courier Mailreports
She works at the Hotel Grand Chancellor at Spring Hill and had done a shift on January 2.
Authorities have since rushed to contact-trace after she was out in the community while infected for four days.
Chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said she was confident Queenslanders could respond to this threat.
"If we can get on top of this today, we'll be able to manage it and we won't need to go back into a longer lockdown period," Dr Young said.
"We need to act fast … and find every single case now. We need to find any person who might have had contact with that case and get them into quarantine.
"That's what we have to do over the next three days."
Health Minister Yvette D'Ath warned authorities would struggle to get any outbreak under control.
"We see what's happening in the UK … We could see catastrophic results," she said.
"This is not hypothetical."
VICTORIA REPORTS NO NEW LOCAL COVID CASES
Victoria has recorded zero new locally acquired cases of coronavirus on Friday as more than 33,00 people were tested overnight.
The Department of Health and Human Services also revealed one new infection in returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.
There are 39 active cases of COVID-19 across the state, 28 of which are locally acquired cases.
About 23,100 test results were received in the past 24 hours with another 10,000 delayed due to "technical issues", the DHHS said.
The health department revealed on Thursday the mystery case announced on Wednesday had been genomically linked to the northern beaches outbreak.
But the source of acquisition for the case remains unknown and under investigation.
VACCINATION PROGRAM ROLLOUT PUSHED FORWARD
Australians are expected to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine from mid to late February, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Mr Morrison said high-priority groups, including healthcare and quarantine workers among others, would receive the treatment first.
He hoped the initial phase would start with about 80,000 inoculations a week.
However, Mr Morrison said this timeline with depend on a number of factors including final approval from the Therapeutic Good Administration, and delivery of the vaccine from the supplier.
He said the Pfizer vaccine would only be delivered and released once TGA approval was given, which he anticipated would occur by the end of January.
Mr Morrison dismissed claims the vaccine release had been delayed, adding health officials had been moving "swiftly and safely" to introduce the treatment
"Doing that is critical to public confidence in the vaccine. We have set out cautious timetables … but behind the scenes the officials you see here have led a process … to ensure we are seeking to better those (vaccine rollout timetables). We don't want to make promises that we can't keep - that is incredibly important," Mr Morrison said
Mr Morrison warned that the vaccine was not a "silver bullet".
"Once the vaccination process starts, COVID-safe practices do not end," he said.
He said the approval process for the AstraZeneca vaccine should be completed in February, but he did not have a clearer timeline at present.
Once the AstraZeneca treatment had been cleared by the TGA more groups of Australians would be vaccinated, said federal health department secretary Professor Brendan Murphy.
Prof Murphy said this was because it would be manufactured locally and thus have guaranteed supply line.
He said vaccine hubs would be set up across the nation to help ensure people got two doses of the same vaccine.
Over the second quarter of 2021 "a significant portion" of the Australian population would be vaccinated, he said.
He added children would likely be among the last to receive the jab.
"The very last group that we might consider (vaccinating) is children. We know that children are at very low risk of getting COVID and transmitting COVID and the vaccine has not yet been thoroughly tested against children," he said.
Visitors or residents of NSW who have been to Brisbane will be made to self-isolate, officials have announced.
The move came after Queensland announced a three-day lockdown of Brisbane, which will begin at 6pm Friday.
NSW will make anyone who has been in Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Moreton Bay, and Redlands from January 2 self-isolate.
Northern Beaches area still in lockdown till January 9:
*You may only be away from your home if you have a reasonable excuse.
*You may leave your home for exercise or outdoor recreation, but only within the northern area of the Northern Beaches.
*You may only leave this area for essential reasons, including to buy food or access goods or services that are not available in the northern area of the Northern Beaches.
*Up to 5 people, including children, may gather outdoors in a public place for exercise or recreational activity (including boating), but everyone must be a northern area resident.
Outdoor recreation activities
If you are living or staying in the northern area of the Northern Beaches, you may leave your home for outdoor recreation activities.
Outdoor recreation includes activity that supports mental, physical or emotional wellbeing such as
*picnics and taking children to outdoor public playgrounds
*water-based activities (swimming, boating, jet-skiing, fishing, paddle boarding).
In the northern area, no more than 5 northern area residents can participate.
A $200 on the spot fine will apply if you do not comply with the requirements to wear a face mask.
Children aged 12 and under are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks where practicable.
Places where face masks must be worn
You must wear a face mask indoors when you enter or work at
*retail or business premises that provides goods or services to the public including
*residential aged care facilities (visitors, not residents).
Premises that are used for the purpose of providing health services are not retail premises or business premises.
Face masks are also mandatory when you are using public transport or are a passenger in a taxi or rideshare vehicle when you are waiting at a public transport waiting area (such as a bus stop, train platform or taxi rank) for all staff in hospitality venues and casinos for patrons using gaming services.
From midnight Friday January 8, anyone coming into SA from greater Brisbane will be required to quarantine for 14 days.
SA Premier Steven Marshall announced a hard border closure to NSW on January 1.
He said there will be few exemptions for those returning after 12.01am on Friday, but SA residents, people permanently moving states and essential travellers will be permitted.
All those groups will still need to self-isolate for 14 days.
Travellers returning to the state will need to demonstrate they met the criteria upon crossing the border.
He said people travelling from Queensland to South Australia must follow the most direct route through NSW and not spend "unnecessary time" interstate.
Mr Marshall said a 100km buffer zone will be implemented for cross-border communities, allowing people in Broken Hill and Wentworth to freely enter the state.
"We're also going to be putting some transit allowances because there are people travelling through NSW who won't be stopping," Mr Marshall said.
Mr Marshall said border arrangements with Victoria would not change.
Victoria's border with NSW is now shut.
Any Victorian arriving from NSW before the deadline needed to get tested and quarantine for 14 days, the state government said.
On Wednesday, Victoria announced anyone who has been in the NSW regions of the Blue Mountains and Wollongong since Sunday had to return by 11.59pm on December 31.
The border was already closed to those in Greater Sydney and the Central Coast.
The NT declared Greater Metropolitan Sydney a COVID-19 hotspot from midnight on New Year's Eve, meaning anyone travelling from there must enter quarantine.
The NT had previously declared only seven Sydney suburbs hot spots.
Greater Brisbane will enter a three day lockdown.
Queensland, which had already declared Greater Sydney a hotspot, is assessing the situation as it unfolds.
Chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said on Thursday she was closely monitoring the New South Wales cluster and the new Victorian cases.
"I'm urging Queenslanders travelling to these states to reassess their plans - if it is not necessary, then consider staying here," she said.
"The next 24 hours are critical for Victoria and the NSW cluster is growing daily. Queensland is in a good position right now because we acted quickly to declare greater Sydney a hotspot."
Western Australia has introduced a hard border with Queensland, which will take effect from midnight on Friday, January 8.
Western Australia has already shut its border to NSW travellers but on Thursday said it will close to Victorian travellers too.
From 12.01am on January 1, only exempt Victorian travellers will be allowed into WA, while returning residents must self-isolate for two weeks.
Anyone who arrived in WA from Victoria on or after December 21 must also self-quarantine for 14 days.
Tasmania has declared nine Victorian sites as high-risk COVID-19 areas including restaurants, clubs, churches, shopping centres, hotels, and bars.
People in Tasmania who have visited are asked to self-isolate and contact the public health line on 1800 671 738.
Non-Tasmanians who have been in the areas in the specified times cannot enter Tasmania without an exemption.
It has measures in place requiring travellers from Greater Sydney to quarantine.
More details on travel alerts here.
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY
Non-ACT residents are banned from entering the territory if they have travelled from hotspots, unless granted an exemption. That means all non-residents who have been in Greater Sydney, the Central Coast or Wollongong local government areas will be refused entry at the border.
ACT residents have to sign an online declaration form before returning then quarantine for 14 days.
- with NCA NewsWire
Originally published as 'Stay where you are': PM's plan to stop UK mutant strain spread