Australian health authorities investigate new South African COVID strain – The Sydney Morning Herald

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Australia won’t hesitate to shut its borders to South Africa over concerns about an emerging strain of COVID-19 as health authorities investigate data around the variant that has been described a “serious concern”.

The UK added South Africa and five other African countries to its travel “red list”, banning all direct commercial and private flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Australian health authorities are monitoring a new coronavirus variant that has emerged in South Africa.

Australian health authorities are monitoring a new coronavirus variant that has emerged in South Africa.Credit:AP

The new strain, currently called B.1.1529, has been detected in several countries but fewer than 100 cases have been confirmed so far.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said no cases of the strain have been discovered in Australia, but the country would not hesitate to move swiftly if health experts are concerned about the variant.

“If the medical advice is that we need to change, we won’t hesitate. That’s what we’ve done as a country, whether it’s been closing borders, whether it’s been ensuring that there’s quarantine,” he said on Friday morning.

Mr Hunt said Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly and head of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Group, Professor Brendan Murphy, were investigating, and at this stage there was no advice the border should close 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 emerging variant … and if more action is needed, more will be taken,” he said.

People returning to Australia from South Africa have been going through the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory, and the most recent repatriation flight arrived about two weeks ago.

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