Australia’s border to South Africa to remain open despite new Covid variant emerging

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There are no plans to restrict flights to Australia South Africa, despite the emergence of a newer version of COVID-19, which has prompted the UK to close its borders to the country.

As the World Health Organization convenes an urgent meeting to discuss the new variant found in South Africa, Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, said on Friday that officials were assessing the threat posed by the strain and had yet to be reported from southern Africa. There will be no restrictions on arrival. ,

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

Britain announced on Friday it would ban flights from southern parts of Africa amid concerns about an emerging version B.1.1.1.529, but Hunt said international health officials were still gathering information about it .

“The world is learning and watching [at] stress,” he said. He was informed about this by both Kelly and Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy on Friday morning.

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

He said a repatriation flight from South Africa arrived in Australia last week and the returnees were in quarantine at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory. He was not aware of any cases of the new strain being found in Australia.

It comes as Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical chief on COVID-19, said in a question-and-answer livestream on Friday that information about the strain was still emerging.

“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, “He said.

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

However, version b.1.1.529 has raised concerns in the international community due to the “extremely high number” of mutations, which Some researchers fear immunity to virus may help evade,

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

South Africa’s vaccination rate is only around 24%, while in neighboring Botswana, where the strain has also been detected, only one in five people have been vaccinated.

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

“Australia has now contributed 9m doses to partners in the region, some to covax program, for some funding, but it is not enough,” she said.

While Australia was “right” focused on our region, she said, low vaccination rates remain a major problem around the world.

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

“It’s not a highly-contagious strain of the virus, it just has to get into those places with low vaccination rates. We don’t know what will happen, it may fade and the vaccine may work too. But if any of those If things aren’t quite right, you’re putting yourself in a position where the virus can take a slight leap in its evolutionary development.”

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

“We have additional vaccines being made available, but in addition we are also working directly through the Covax program,” he said.

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