Australia 'prepared' for alarming new Covid variant to hit

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·News Reporter
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Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says Australia is perfectly prepared for an emerging Covid-19 variant should it arrive in the country despite fears from experts.

South African scientists have detected a new variant in the country, dubbed the Nu strain, which has double the number of mutations of the Delta variant.

Mr Hunt told reporters in Sydney on Friday he has been briefed by chief medical officer Paul Kelly and health department secretary Brendan Murphy.

“They are investigating and reviewing the South African variant in conjunction with the WHO (World Health Organisation) and our international partners,” he said.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Minister for Health Greg Hunt believes Australia is well-prepared to handle new Covid variants. Source: AAP

Mr Hunt said experts are still assessing it.

“It means that we’re well prepared. We are able to act quickly if there is advice,” he said.

“The advice at the moment is to engage with the international communities.”

International arrivals still allowed 

At this stage no change will be made to international arrivals. Mr Hunt said the rules will stay the same with unvaccinated returning Australians required to quarantine.

Mr Hunt said the variant's emergence would not mean an immediate change to the national reopening plan, but the response would be swift should advice change.

"We've always been flexible, and if the medical advice is that we need to change, we won't hesitate," Mr Hunt said.

A baby cries as her mother receives her Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19, in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg
A Johannesburg woman receives a Pfizer vaccine with her child in tow. Source: AAP

Mr Hunt said Australia's high vaccination levels had put Australia in a much better position to handle new variants than when Delta emerged earlier this year.

As of Friday, more than 86 per cent of eligible Australians over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to Operation Covid Shield.

Mr Hunt said the advice is Australia can cope with emerging variants due to the “broad-spectrum nature” of vaccines.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said while there were many COVID-19 variants that had been detected, the situation was being watched closely.

"We monitor all of these variants, we note the responses that are made by other countries and we consider those in real time," Mr Morrison told reporters in Adelaide.

The launch of a mass vaccination rollout programme at Metro Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Staff outside Metro Centre in Johannesburg as its used to the vaccination rollout. Source: Getty Images

It comes as letters will be mailed to every Australian household before Christmas urging people to get their Covid-19 booster shot.

More than 370,000 people have received their booster shot since they were approved by the medical regulator, but more than 500,000 have been eligible.

However, Mr Hunt said the booster program was ahead of schedule and exceeding expectations.

"Australians do trust the vaccination program. Yes, there's been the noise of a fringe, but they're losing the battle," he said.

"The vaccinators are winning the battle, and I am very hopeful that this early high level of booster acceptance will continue right through the program."

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet on Thursday encouraged residents eligible for a booster shot to come forward for a jab.

Those eligible for a booster shot have to have received their second dose of vaccine dosage six months ago.

with AAP

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