New variant won't impact reopening plan

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A newly discovered COVID-19 variant that has alarmed overseas health experts is unlikely to impact Australia's vaccine efficacy, according to the federal health minister.

Greg Hunt said the new COVID strain, also known as the Nu variant, would not affect the national reopening plan, but stressed developments were being closely monitored.

The Nu variant has been detected in South Africa with about 50 cases recorded, and has double the number of mutations as the Delta variant, which led to widespread lockdowns in Australia this year.

While the United Kingdom has banned flights from six countries in southern Africa following the variant's discovery, Mr Hunt said no changes would be made to Australian border arrangements.

"The world is looking and learning about the strain," Mr Hunt told reporters in Sydney on Friday.

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

There has been one flight arrive in Australia from South Africa in the past week, but it was a repatriation flight.

Passengers onboard the flight are in quarantine at the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory.

Should the Nu variant be detected, Mr Hunt said Australia's high vaccine rate had put the country in a much better position than when the Delta strain wreaked havoc.

The latest vaccination figures showed 86.3 per cent of over-16s being fully vaccinated while 92.1 per cent have had their first dose.

"The advice remains that the broad-spectrum nature of the vaccines is likely to cover emerging variants, and that's been the case with Delta and that's been the case with other variants that have emerged," Mr Hunt said.

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 government will send out letters to every household in the country, urging residents to get booster shots.

The health minister said more than 390,000 people have received their booster shots since they became available.

Those who have had their initial course of the COVID-19 vaccine six months ago are now eligible to receive the top-up dose for additional protection.

Mr Hunt said while supply issues had plagued the start of the vaccine rollout, it would not be a factor for the booster rollout.

"We not only have, already, the 40 million Pfizer that are in hand, but we have an additional 60 million Pfizer due next year and 25 million the year after in 2023," he said.

Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is the only brand approved to be used as a booster in Australia.

However, Mr Hunt said manufacturer Novavax was going through the approval process with the medical regulator and hoped that product would be available early next year.

On Friday, there were 1362 new COVID-19 cases in Victoria, with seven deaths reported.

Meanwhile, in NSW there were 261 infections, with no fatalities.

There were no new cases in the Northern Territory, while the ACT had eight cases.

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