Passengers on international flights from the United Kingdom and other COVID-19 hotspots are set to face mandatory pre-flight COVID tests before they enter hotel quarantine in Australia.
News.com.au has confirmed that the national cabinet is set to be briefed on the option on Friday as health chiefs also consider a blanket ban on travel from the UK and South Africa.
However, that ban on travel is believed to be less likely because the new “mutant” strain of COVID-19 that is tearing through London and England’s southeast is likely to become the dominant strain quickly elsewhere as well, potentially locking out thousands of Australians who are now desperate to come home.
Scott Morrison has 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).”
In a statement released on Wednesday night, the Prime Minister confirmed he had contacted Premiers and Chief Ministers to convene a special meeting of the National Cabinet on Friday morning.
“This is being done particularly in the context of the UK strain,’’ 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.
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“Well, it is happening. I mean, most of the airlines do it anyway,’’ he said.
“And on all the flights that we’re bringing back to Australia directly as a Commonwealth, we’re doing it. 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.”
The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is also on the agenda at Friday’s national cabinet meeting.
“The meeting will also provide an opportunity to further update the National Cabinet on the Federal Government’s vaccination programme, where considerable progress is being made over the break,’’ the Prime Minister said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed on Wednesday that Australia’s rollout of the coronavirus vaccine could begin as early as the beginning of March instead of later in the month as originally planned.
The vaccination program is expected to run until October the timetable the government expects it will take to vaccinate the majority of the community.
“Safety trumps everything,’’ Mr Hunt said.