Australia will mandate the pre-flight testing of international travellers and flight crew, require masks on all domestic and international flights, but leave the borders open, as part of the fights against a new mutant strain of COVID-19.
News.com.au has confirmed that the National Cabinet has mandated tough new measures amid fears the highly infectious new strain could cause chaos and further lockdowns.
The testing will take place 72 hours before travellers get on the plane. Flight crew will also be tested on more regular basis.
Testing of all hotel quarantine staff in Australia will be conducted on a daily basis.
But despite Queensland “pushing hard” for a temporary ban on travellers from the UK, the National Cabinet has agreed to a suite of measures more in line with Victoria’s calls to strengthen “end to end” protections in international air travel
Earlier this week, news.com.au reported that passengers on international flights from the UK and other COVID-19 hot spots are set to face mandatory pre-flight COVID tests before they enter hotel quarantine in Australia.
Scott Morrison has previously confirmed the national cabinet will meet on Friday to discuss options to “further strengthen the COVID safety of end to end international travel processes (from arrival at Airport of embarkation in the exit country, to final clearance from hotel quarantine in Australia).”
“This is being done particularly in the context of the UK strain,’’ Mr Morrison said.
The Prime Minister was asked about the push to adopt mandatory COVID tests for international air travellers from Britain before they board flights on 3AW this week.
But he stressed that the travellers will still need to quarantine on the other side when they land in Australia.
“But we should stress that that doesn’t change the risk. People can be asymptomatic or have not contracted or the virus has manifested itself yet at the time of travelling and that can create a complacency on the other side. Whoever’s coming to Australia must quarantine for 14 days. They must.”
On Thursday, the Victorian Premier called for the daily testing of hotel quarantine workers.
“I want the things we are doing in Melbourne and Victoria done nationally,” Mr Andrews said.
“Because if it’s a problem in any part of the country, it’s a problem in Victoria. And if it’s a problem in Victoria, it’s a problem in every part of the country.
“Every person who gets it [the mutant strain] is giving it to four other people.”
The Prime Minister said the idea that you could simply suspend travel from Britain and keep the virus out of Australia was a ‘false hope’.
However, in the short-term Australia will reduce the caps on international arrivals into Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
“We anticipate that this will become the more dominant strain of the virus globally,’’ he said.
“And so the idea that it somehow can be contained just out of the United Kingdom is a false hope. As I said, 80 per cent of the Australians looking to come back are in countries that have had exposure to that strain of the virus.”
Mask-wearing will be mandatory on all domestic and international flights excluding children aged under the age of 12.
“Individuals – including travellers and staff – must undertake measures for infection prevention and control for international travel,’’ Mr Morrison said.
“That includes passengers to wear masks throughout international flights, crew to wear masks and other personal protective equipment where appropriate, airlines to have appropriate infection prevention and control measures on-board aircraft, all individuals within Australian and international airport environments to wear a mask.
“Passengers should wear masks while in international airports overseas. International air crew must undergo a COVID-19 test in Australia every seven days or on arrival.”
Given how quickly the new strain had ripped through Britain, Mr Morrison strongly backed the “very wise decision” by the Queensland government to put in place a three day lockdown.
“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, isolated, that people in the appropriate places can get the testing,’’ he said.
He issued a strong warning to holiday-makers in Queensland and interstate to “stay where you are”.
“The Brisbane hot spot, as we are declaring it at a Commonwealth level – it is different to a normal definition we’d apply to hot spots,’’ he said.
“And that is the case in relation to this strain. That applies to Brisbane, Logan, Moreton, Redlands, and Ipswich. This comes into effect at 6:00pm this evening, is my understanding.
“Our message to Australians who are in those areas is – stay where you are.
Don’t go anywhere. 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. If you are from any of those places and you are somewhere else, you may be here in the ACT, you may be in Western Australia, you may be in Victoria – you should treat yourself as if you are in those places. You should get tested. You should monitor your symptoms.”