A mutated strain of COVID-19 spreading throughout south-east England has prompted a number of countries to ban flights from the United Kingdom.
But Australian authorities say they are not planning on imposing tougher restrictions anytime soon.
Here are the main reasons behind that decision explained by the country’s Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly.
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Australia’s hotel quarantine system considered ‘very safe and effective’
Professor Kelly revealed four cases of the new COVID-19 strain had now been detected in Australia, up from the two reported in New South Wales on Monday.
The other two cases were detected in Victorian hotel quarantine.
But he argued Australia’s requirement for overseas travellers to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine was much stricter than many other countries closing their borders to the United Kingdom.
And despite previous hotel quarantine breaches, such as that which sparked Victoria’s second wave, he insisted the system was working.
“Even if someone from the UK came with that virus, and there have only been four so far, it would be controlled in the Australian context,” he said.
“If you are a person, by yourself, coming into a hotel room for two weeks, you’re not going to transmit [the virus] out of that room.
“And in most of the cases, for most of the time, our quarantine system has been very safe and effective.”
Tougher restrictions would further limit the number of Australians coming home
There are still almost 40,000 Australians who want to return home from overseas, with international arrival caps at Australian airports making it difficult for many to get a flight back.
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Professor Kelly said many of those people were living in places like London and their return remained a priority.
“In terms of where those Australians who want to come back are right now, the UK is right up there as one of the major places,” he said.
“We don’t believe there’s any reason to change our border arrangements in relation to people coming from the UK.
“We have a lot of Australian citizens that live in the UK right now, wanting to come back to Australia, and we still are welcoming them. They will be going into 14 days’ supervised quarantine.”
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More evidence needed about the new strain
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned of early indications the new variant of the virus was 70 per cent more transmissible.
Boris Johnson assures world leaders that UK can get on top of new variant of COVID-19
However, Professor Kelly argued more information was needed about the impact that could have.
“There’s no evidence at the moment that it has any effect on the severity of the illness from the virus,” he said.
“There is no evidence at the moment that it interferes with the vaccine.
“There is no evidence at the moment that it interferes with diagnostic tests.”
Professor Kelly was also questioning whether an increase in people moving around and mixing in the UK in the lead up to Christmas could be a factor in the spread of the virus.
He described the situation as a “moving feast” though, and said the expert medical panel he chaired, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), was meeting daily.
“We’re obviously looking closely,” he said.
“But at the moment there’s no need for this to be a cause of us changing any of our arrangements here in Australia, or to be concerned about people coming from the UK.”
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