Australia will not hesitate to close its borders to South Africa due to concerns about a new strain of COVID-19, as health authorities are examining data on the variant that has been described as a “serious concern”.
The United Kingdom added South Africa and five other African countries to its “red list” for travel, banning all direct commercial and private flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The new strain, currently called B.1.1529, has been discovered in several countries, but fewer than 100 cases have so far been confirmed.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said no cases of the strain have been detected in Australia, but the country will not hesitate to move quickly if health experts are concerned about the variant.
“If the medical advice is that we need to change, we will not hesitate. That is what we have done as a country, whether it has been to close borders, whether it has been to ensure that there is quarantine, “he said on Friday morning.
Hunt said Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly and head of the scientific and technical advisory group, Professor Brendan Murphy, were investigating the matter and at present there was no advice that the border should be closed to South Africa.
“I asked the Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Kelly this morning in our conference call, to review the status of the potentially new variant … and if more action is needed, more will be taken,” he said.
People returning to Australia from South Africa have been through the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory, and the most recent repatriation flight arrived about two weeks ago.