Australia halves the number of international arrivals and makes pre-flight testing mandatory in a bid to keep new COVID-19 strains out

Australia has introduced tough new flight and quarantine measures to prevent new strains of COVID-19 from entering the country. (James D. Morgan, Getty Images)
  • The National Cabinet has implemented new measures to help prevent the UK strain of COVID-19 from spreading in Australia.
  • They include mandatory pre-flight tests with all international passengers required to test negative before being permitted to enter the country, mandatory masks on all flights and in all Australian airports, and a halving of caps on the intake of new arrivals.
  • “The purpose here is to both reduce and de-bulk the risk in terms of exposure to the new strain,” the Prime Minister said, noting it was 70% more transmissible than previous strains.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The National Cabinet has signed off on tough new measures designed to keep new highly infectious strains of COVID-19 out of Australia.

On Friday, the meeting of federal, state, and territory leaders concluded with new restrictions on international arrivals, including pre-flight testing of all passengers.

“What we do know is that this new strain is some 70% more transmissible than the previous strains of the virus. This strain is likely to become, in the very near future, the dominant strain – as it largely already is in the UK,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

The new strain has already been detected in 10 quarantined cases in New South Wales. One community case identified in Brisbane meanwhile led Queensland to lock down Greater Brisbane for three days.

“It moves so quickly – far more quickly than previous strains of the virus – and that means we need to give our contact tracers that headstart to ensure that they can track down and run down all of the contacts from this individual and ensure that they can be identified, isolated, that people in the appropriate places can get the testing,” Morrison said.

To prevent further cases entering the country however, the National Cabinet unveiled a range of new measures to stop it at the border.

“We decided to take a number of actions today in relation to quarantine and how it operates, as well as in relation to flights. The purpose here is to both reduce and de-bulk the risk in terms of exposure to the new strain,” the Prime Minister said.

“Travellers to Australia must now return a negative COVID-19 test result prior to their departure to Australia.”

While Morrison conceded there would be “exemptions in extenuating circumstances” such as for seasonal workers from the Pacific, the measures were aimed at raising the bar to entry.

Masks will also become mandatory on all international flights, as well as in domestic flights and airports for those aged 12 and up.

“Passengers [are] to wear masks throughout international flights, crew [are] to wear masks and other personal protective equipment where appropriate, airlines [are] to have appropriate infection prevention and control measures onboard aircraft, [and] all individuals within Australian and international airport environments [are] to wear a mask,” Morrison said.

Meanwhile, the National Cabinet has also agreed to new uniform measures for international flight crews, after a period in which states had worked out a patchwork of different requirements.

“International air crew must undergo a COVID-19 test in Australia every seven days or on arrival,” Morrison said.

“[They must] continue to quarantine in dedicated quarantine facilities between international flights or for 14 days… [there are] no special rules for flight crews moving about.”

Arrival caps on passengers will be slashed by 50% until February 15, meaning New South Wales will only be able to accept 1,505 passenger per week, Queensland 500, and Western Australia 512.

Victoria and South Australia will be unaffected by the reduction, Morrison said, due to already low levels of arrivals, while the federal government will continue to manage any intake in the territories.