Travellers with the mutated strain of coronavirus wreaking havoc in the UK have arrived in Australia, NSW’s top health official has confirmed.
UK Health Minister Matt Hancock said a new strain of Covid-19 was 70 per cent more transmissible than the original.
The number of cases in Britain surged by 35,928 on Sunday (local time), the highest daily rise since the start of the pandemic, and it recorded 326 deaths, taking the official toll to more than 67,000.
NSW recorded 15 more cases of Covid-19 on Monday, bringing the Northern Beaches cluster total, centred around the suburb of Avalon, to 83.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant was asked about the mutated strain seen in the UK and she confirmed it had arrived in NSW.
“Today I’m advised that we’ve had a couple of UK returned travellers with the particular mutations you’re referring to,” Dr Chant told reporters on Monday.
“Can I be very clear that the Avalon cluster strain does not have those mutations.
“But the key point, regardless, is that we need to treat all people with that end-to-end process of making sure that they’re not coming in contact and there is not a risk of exposure to any residents in New South Wales.”
It’s not clear if the people with the strain are in hotel quarantine currently.
The Avalon cluster has already led to states and territories closing their borders to Greater Sydney and the Northern Beaches.
Several European countries – including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium – said they were taking measures to prevent people arriving from Britain, including bans on flights and trains.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tore up plans to allow three households to mix indoors for five days over the festive period and imposed new Tier 4 curbs – similar to a national lockdown in March – on London and southeast England.
Mr Hancock suggested the tougher measures – which require about a third of the population of England to stay at home except for essential reasons such as work – might remain in place until vaccinations become more widely available.
"We've got a long way to go to sort this," Mr Hancock told Sky News.
"Essentially we've got to get that vaccine rolled out to keep people safe. Given how much faster this new variant spreads, it's going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out."
Britain began inoculating people using the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech earlier this month.
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