A frightening surge in coronavirus cases in the UK is prompting suggestions Australia may need to completely close its borders to the virus-riddled nation.
On Tuesday (local time) British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it’s believed one in 50 people in the UK currently have coronavirus after a highly-infectious strain of Covid-19 ripped through its population in recent weeks.
University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said the federal government now needed to consider blocking returned travellers from the UK in a bid to prevent the new strain making its way into the Australian community.
“We've got a variant in the UK, where if it gets on the ground in Australia, will spread far more easily,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
Professor Blakely said if the virus leaked from quarantine, states’ contact tracing systems would likely fail and lockdowns would be needed.
“What can we do? We can close the border, that's quite radical, but it's on the table as a possibility.”
He said due to people moving between countries overseas, the likelihood is the new strain has spread further than the UK and would mean if Australia opted to close its border to the UK, a move banning arrivals from any country could follow.
“If we did shut the border to the UK and South Africa, the variant that's there will be in Spain, France, it's worldwide soon. We could well end up shutting the borders to everyone,” Prof Blakely said.
He said more feasible options included vaccinating those who hold border-related jobs, including in quarantine and air crew, and testing travellers before they depart for Australia.
There were several instances of the virus inadvertently leaking in NSW last month, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian warning at the time there will always be a risk associated with welcoming returned travellers back into Australia.
Lockdown begins with record daily cases
On Tuesday, Britain began its third nationwide lockdown after the variant sent daily cases surging well in excess of 50,000.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the latest data showed two per cent of the population were currently infected - more than a million people in England.
"When everybody looks at the position, people understand overwhelmingly that we have no choice," he told a news conference.
There were a record 60,916 cases confirmed on Tuesday, up nearly 15 per cent from a week earlier.
Following the release of the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, Labour MP Angela Rayner labelled the latest statistics “horrendous”.
It is a stark contrast compared to several months ago when in September there were one infection per 900 people.
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