COVID super strain may result in tougher travel restrictions
Pre-flight testing for travellers and other beefed-up measures to protect against a super strain of coronavirus could begin as early as next week.
National Cabinet will on Friday discuss the raft of measures recommended by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to lock out the highly infectious variation spreading throughout the United Kingdom.
A Queensland hotel quarantine cleaner was on Thursday confirmed to have been infected with the mutated virus, in what is Australia's first community case.
At least four return travellers in Victoria's hotel quarantine have also been hit by the super bug.
Premier Daniel Andrews said a key focus would be for all states to routinely test hotel quarantine staff, as happens in Victoria's revamped program.
He said he was confident many of the AHPPC's recommendations would be adopted and authorities would act quickly to roll them out.
"It can be done very, very fast and it absolutely needs to be," Mr Andrews said.
"Given that this very infectious strain out of the UK is moving pretty fast, so we need to move fast too."
The medical expert panel has met every day since before Christmas to monitor the UK and refine Australia's processes to better protect the country from the super-potent strain.
Among the changes being floated are pre-flight testing, mandatory masks on planes and requirements for airlines to screen flight crews weekly.
Scott Morrison said he had requested a "clear proposal" from the AHPPC for the National Cabinet to consider at its emergency meeting on Friday.
The Prime Minister said the plan would "deal with the end-to-end process on international arrivals" - from getting on the plane to the end of mandatory quarantine.
"Getting Australians home is important," Mr Morrison said. "But keeping Australians safe and ensuring the robustness of our processes and the quarantine arrangements, particularly with the additional risks that come with the more contagious strain, that is obviously what has prompted my request to the Chief Medical Officer this week."
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the AHPPC had been looking at extra measures above the current hotel quarantine system to keep Australia safe.
"It (the new strain) is now pretty much the only game in town in the UK," he said.
"We know that hotel quarantine is safe. We need to, though, look at what else, if anything, needs to be done and that is what will be discussed at National Cabinet."
Sonny Palmer, his wife Fiona and daughter Lexie, 7, returned to Melbourne on Thursday after holidaying in Noosa.
The medical doctor said he would fully support tighter measures for those entering Australia.
"It's mental to me. My friends work in the UK … and I actually don't know how we let people in without knowing their COVID status," Dr Palmer said. "(If they were tested) at least you know as they get on the plane, and you can quarantine them accordingly.
"At least then you know you can't lose. No one wants to shut down again and no one wants all those people to get sick again."
FRESH HOPE FOR VICTORIANS STRANDED ACROSS BORDER
Victorians trapped in NSW have been given a glimmer of hope, with Daniel Andrews flagging border rules could change by next week.
The Premier on Thursday defended the decision to enforce a hard border closure after more than 3400 people applied for exemptions to get into Victoria.
But he hoped the government would soon be able to announce an altered permit system that could tackle the growing backlog.
"We will work through all of those things but I do hope that those settings can change and can change fairly soon. Maybe next week, maybe early the following week," he said.
"As soon as they can change then we will have people able to get a permit much more easily than applying for an exemption.
"We'll do everything we can to get you home as soon as possible but I cannot have a situation where there is a pathway home for you, and you bring the virus with you."
Mr Andrews said he expected the school year to start as planned, leaving stranded Victorian families in a race against time. Students are due to return to the classroom on January 28, less than three weeks away, but could be required to quarantine for a fortnight on returning from NSW.
Asked if the government would ensure children were home in time to start school, Mr Andrews said: "I would hope to be able to make some announcements next week but … advice is driven by what's happening … in Sydney and throughout NSW."
Monash University globalisation, leadership and policy lecturer Fiona Longmuir said the first few weeks of school were crucial.
"If kids can't get back, particularly Melbourne kids, it just exacerbates the impact of last year," she said. "They need to connect with new groups and make friendships … It's a bit of a shadow over what should be a normal, safe school year."
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance on Thursday reiterated his government's frustrations with the border closures. "I would have thought it's a basic human right to be able to return to one's home in Australia," he said.
Originally published as National Cabinet to decide new travel measures