Flights from the UK will continue despite a highly infectious COVID-19 strain wreaking havoc across the country’s south, Australia’s acting chief medical officer says.
The new variant has forced the UK’s south into its harshest level lockdown for Christmas.
Countries across the world, including France and other European nations, have also slapped travel bans on people entering from Britain.
But Paul Kelly said there was no need for Australia to follow suit, despite two people undertaking hotel quarantine in Sydney being found to have the new variant.
He said the Australia’s quarantine system, which forces arrivals from the UK to undergo 14 days in isolation, was well-equipped to deal with the new strain.
“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,” he said on Tuesday.
“If you are a person coming by yourself into a hotel room for two weeks, you’re not going to transmit that out of that room.
“And in most of the cases, for most of the time, our quarantine system has been very safe and effective.”
Professor Kelly said only four of the almost 2500 confirmed total cases in hotel quarantine were from the new strain.
He stressed although the new variant was particularly infectious, there was no evidence that it caused more severe symptoms or reduced the effectiveness of vaccines.
It comes after Transport Minister Michael McCormack was asked on Tuesday if Australia was considering stopping flights from the UK.
“Indeed,” Mr McCormack told ABC Radio National.
“We continue to review all of these arrangements.”
Mr McCormack said the two people in Sydney with the variant were a concern and that Australia’s expert medical panel was meeting daily with the prime minister.
“It is not just a concern for Australia, it’s a concern worldwide,” he said.
“We continue to monitor these and will act accordingly.”
More than 38,000 Australians stuck overseas have registered to come home with Australia’s foreign affairs department.
In October, Australians in the UK deemed vulnerable were first in line for a charter flight home.
But thousands still remain stranded as parts of the UK enter tough lockdowns, with 33,364 people testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday.
Prof Kelly also confirmed the new variant would not force Australia to expedite approval for a COVID-19 vaccine, which is set to rollout in March.
The UK and US both issued emergency approval for the Pfizer vaccine this month, while the EU’s medicines regulator on Monday recommended its use across the 27-country bloc.
But Prof Kelly said with Australia keeping the virus under control in relative terms, the government would stick to its current time frame.
“There are several countries in the world that have emergency-use authorisation, because they have emergencies,” he said.
“The US (had) 200,000 cases yesterday. They have an emergency, they need to get on with it. Same in the UK, same with Europe overnight.
“We are not going down that pathway because we don’t have anywhere near that need right now. But we’re certainly not stopping in our preparations.”