Australia has no plans to limit flights from South Africa, regardless of the emergence of a brand new variant of Covid-19 which has prompted the UK to close its borders to the nation.
Because the World Well being Group known as an pressing assembly to debate the brand new variant detected in South Africa, the well being minister Greg Hunt mentioned on Friday that officers had been assessing the risk posed by the pressure and wouldn’t but introduce restrictions on arrivals from southern Africa.
Whereas Australia would “be capable of act rapidly if there’s recommendation”, Hunt advised media the nation’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, had suggested him there was “no foundation for change” in border preparations.
The UK on Friday introduced it might ban flights from southern components of Africa amid concern concerning the rising B.1.1.529 variant, however Hunt mentioned that worldwide well being authorities had been nonetheless gathering details about it.
“The world is studying and searching [at] the pressure,” he mentioned.
Hunt mentioned he had been briefed by each Kelly and the secretary of the division of well being, Brendan Murphy, on Friday morning.
“At this stage they’re gathering data [but] we’re versatile and if the medical recommendation is we have to change then we received’t hesitate,” he mentioned.
Hunt mentioned a repatriation flight from South Africa had arrived in Australia final week and the returnees had been in quarantine at Howard Springs within the Northern Territory. He mentioned he was not conscious of any instances of the brand new pressure being detected in Australia.
It comes as Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, mentioned in a question-and-answer livestream on Friday that details about the pressure was nonetheless rising.
“What we do know is that this variant has numerous mutations. And the priority is that when you’ve gotten so many mutations, it might have an effect on how the virus behaves,” she mentioned.
The emergence of a brand new pressure is in no way a primary. One other variant, C.1.2, was additionally detected in South Africa earlier this yr, however has not confirmed as infectious because the extra widespread Delta pressure.
Nevertheless the B.1.1.529 variant has raised issues within the worldwide neighborhood because of the “extraordinarily excessive quantity” of mutations which some researchers worry might assist the virus evade immunity.
Whether or not or not the pressure is classed a variant of concern by the WHO, its emergence has drawn renewed consideration to efforts to assist enhance world vaccination charges.
South Africa’s vaccination price is simply at about 24% whereas in neighbouring Botswana, the place the pressure has additionally been detected, just one in 5 folks have been vaccinated.
Prof Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist from the College of Deakin, mentioned the remainder of the world wanted to do extra to extend world vaccination charges.
“Australia has now contributed 9m doses to companions within the area, some to the Covax program, some to funding, nevertheless it isn’t sufficient,” she mentioned.
Whereas Australia was “rightly” targeted on our area, she mentioned low charges of vaccination throughout the globe remained a considerable downside.
“Vaccination charges like in Botswana actually does go away you weak,” she mentioned.
“It doesn’t must be an excellent infectious pressure of the virus it simply has to get into locations with these low vaccination charges. We don’t know what is going to occur with this, it would fizzle out and the vaccine would possibly work simply as properly, but when any of these issues isn’t fairly proper you’re placing your self ready the place the virus would possibly simply make a little bit of a leap in its evolutionary growth.”
On Friday Hunt defended worldwide efforts for creating international locations, saying there had been “terribly excessive” charges of vaccination in some creating international locations.
“Our spare vaccines are being supplied however past that we’re additionally working instantly by way of the Covax program,” he mentioned.
“South Africa is doing every part it might to encourage vaccination inside its inhabitants and to proceed to broaden its distribution community however there are completely different challenges in several international locations.”