Australia’s border remains open to South Africa despite the emergence of a new Covid variant | Australia news

Australia has no plans to restrict flights from South Africa, despite the emergence of a new variant of Covid-19, which has caused Britain to close its borders to the country.

When the World Health Organization convened an emergency meeting to discuss the new variant discovered in South Africa, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Friday that officials assessed the threat from the tribe and would not yet impose restrictions on arrivals from southern Africa. .

While Australia would “be able to act quickly if there is advice”, Hunt told the media that the country’s chief physician, Paul Kelly, had advised him that there was “no basis for change” in the border arrangements.

The UK announced on Friday that it would ban flights from southern Africa due to concerns over the new B.1.1.529 variant, but Hunt said international health authorities are still gathering information on it.

“The world is learning and watching [at] the load, ”he said. He had been briefed by both Kelly and Secretary of Health Brendan Murphy on Friday morning.

“At this stage, they are collecting information [but] we are flexible and if the medical advice is that we need to change, we will not hesitate, ”Hunt said.

He said a repatriation flight from South Africa had arrived in Australia last week and that the returnees had been quarantined in Howard Springs in northern territory. He was not aware of any cases of the new strain being discovered in Australia.

It comes when Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical director at Covid-19, said in a question-and-answer livestream on Friday that information about the tribe was still popping up.

“What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves,” she said.

The emergence of a new tribe is by no means the first. Another variant, C.1.2, was also detected in South Africa earlier this year, but has not been shown to be as contagious as the more common Delta strain.

However, the B.1.1.529 variant has given rise to concern in the international community due to the “extremely high number” of mutations which some researchers fear being able to help the virus avoid immunity.

Whether the strain is classified as a variant of concern by the WHO or not, its emergence has drawn renewed attention to efforts to help increase global vaccination rates.

South Africa’s vaccination rate is only around 24%, while in neighboring Botswana, where the strain has also been detected, only every fifth person has been vaccinated.

Prof. Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist at the University of Deakin, said the rest of the world needed to do more to increase global vaccination rates.

“Australia has now contributed 9 million doses to partners in the region, some more Covax program, some for funding, but that’s not enough, ”she said.

While Australia was “rightly” focused on our region, she said, low vaccination rates across the globe were a major problem.

“Vaccination rates like in Botswana make you really vulnerable,” Bennett said.

“It does not have to be a super-infectious strain of the virus, it just has to get into places with the low vaccination rates. We do not know what will happen with this, it can erupt and the vaccine can work just as well. But if “Some of these things are not quite right, you put yourself in a position where the virus might just make a small leap in its evolutionary evolution.”

Hunt on Friday defended international efforts for developing countries, saying there had been “extraordinarily high” vaccination rates in some of those countries.

“Our reserve vaccines are being delivered, but beyond that we are also working directly through the Covax program,” he said.

“South Africa is doing everything it can to encourage vaccination in its population and to continue to expand its distribution network, but there are different challenges in different countries.”

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