Australia's Brisbane locked down after UK Covid-19 strain found

BRISBANE (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – Australia’s Queensland state imposed a three-day lockdown of its capital, Brisbane, after the UK variant of the coronavirus was detected in the city.

More than 2 million residents across the metropolitan area will have to stay home except for essential work, services and exercise, and wear masks if they do go out, state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters Friday (Jan 8).

Authorities are scrambling to prevent an outbreak of the virus after a cleaner at a quarantine hotel for returned overseas travellers was infected with the strain.

“What we are seeing in the UK and other places around the world is high rates of infection from this particular strain,” she said. “We must act immediately, we must act strongly.”

“If we do not do this now, it could end up being a 30-day lockdown,” sje added.

Australia has largely suppressed community transmission of Covid-19 through rigorous testing and contact tracing and by shuttering the international border – with all returned overseas travellers made to isolate for 14 days in quarantine hotels.

The system has been pivotal to Australia’s success in curbing the virus – but has also proved to be a chink in its armour, with several instances of the virus escaping into the community via cleaners, security guards or workers tasked with transporting infected passengers from airports.

Authorities fear such breaches could increase with the more-transmissible UK Covid-19 variant.

The National Cabinet of state and federal government leaders is meeting Friday to consider measures to combat the strain, including daily testing of quarantine workers, pre-flight testing of anyone flying to Australia and mandatory mask-wearing on planes.

Preliminary analysis suggests the variant is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than other circulating strains and contributing to a spike in cases in the UK.

Cases have been identified in more than 30 countries including the US, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Singapore and South Korea.

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