There are concerns the new Covid-19 variant Omicron has reached Sydney, with two returned travellers undergoing testing.
Urgent genomic testing is underway in NSW after passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa overnight tested positive for Covid.
Authorities are scurrying to determine if two positive cases have been infected with the Omicron variant – a concerning new strain that reportedly has more than 30 mutations and been shown to be highly transmissible.
Fourteen passengers who arrived in Sydney travelled from one of nine southern Africa countries where the new variant has been spreading.
Omicron has been shown to spread rapidly, including between people who are double-vaccinated and scientists are determining if the new variant can reduce the protection of vaccines.
Australia swiftly moved to close its borders to a number of African countries overnight, after dozens of other countries imposed travel rules on southern Africa.
NSW and Victoria went a step further late Saturday evening, introducing a 72-hour isolation requirement for all vaccinated international arrivals, regardless of their departure destination.
The two infected people who arrived into Sydney were on Qatar Airways flight QR908 from Doha to Sydney, which landed on Saturday at 7pm.
These passengers have been transported to the Special Health Accommodation where they will undertake 14 days of quarantine, a spokesperson for the NSW government’s Ministry of Health said.
“Other passengers on the flight may be considered a close contact, and will be contacted and requested to get tested immediately, and isolate for 14 days in accordance with a public health order,” the spokesperson said.
“Close contacts will be contacted regularly, and compliance checks will be undertaken.”
Meanwhile, Northern Territory authorities have been waiting on test results for a confirmed Covid case to rule out the new variant.
About 20 travellers believed to have travelled from South Africa were repatriated last week and are currently quarantining at Howard Springs.
One person has so far tested positive.
There are currently no confirmed cases of the new variant in Australia but Britain, Germany, South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel have all recorded infections.
Authorities at home are attempting to track down at least 100 Australians who recently arrived home from the nine African nations without quarantine.
Those people will need to be tested, and quarantine immediately for 14 days.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia was “well-placed” to fight the Omicron challenge.
“(But) on the basis of medical advice, the Australian government will be implementing additional precautionary border security measures in order to protect Australians while more is learnt about the nature and impact of the Omicron variant of concern,” he said.
“There are currently no known cases of the Omicron variant in Australia.”
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