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Australia on high alert after foreign passengers carry new strains of COVID-19

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian health officials said on Saturday they were on high alert after cases of highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus found in Britain and South Africa entered the country.

People line up to enter a grocery store before an impending blockade due to a coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) in Brisbane, Australia, January 8, 2021. AAP Image / Darren England via REUTERS

Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, came under a three-day blockade following the discovery of a virulent strain of the virus that causes COVID-1

9, linked to Britain. A variant that appeared in South Africa was discovered in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, in hotel quarantine.

Australia has been more successful than most advanced economies in managing the pandemic, with a total of about 28,600 and 909 deaths, while each country has registered zero COVID-19 transmissions at some point.

But given the new options, the government on Friday reduced the number of travelers from abroad and called for negative COVID-19 tests from those boarding planes and more tests at local quarantine facilities.

“As people travel, the risk of the virus entering the community is already there,” New South Wales Prime Minister Gladys Beredzhiklyan told a news conference.

“Anything we can do to reduce this risk is really important, especially now that we understand what these strains do and all the experts advise that these mutated strains become the dominant strain in a timely manner.”

Australia closed its borders in March, but allowed a limited number of Australians to return, putting them in a two-week mandatory hotel quarantine on arrival.

New South Wales, the largest state, announced a new case handed over by the community on Saturday, as the three-week blockade is due to end for about a quarter of a million people in northern Sydney after an outbreak there in December.

Queensland, where a UK-related case was reported last week, did not report any new cases. But officials said they could not rule out extending the three-day blockade if new cases emerged.

“It’s because of this new option and because for the first time, this new option is available in the community all over the country,” said Queensland Chief Health Officer Janet Young.

Report by Lydia Kelly; Edited by William Mallard

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