Australia is formally considering shutting its borders to international travel from the United Kingdom and South Africa as a new mutant strain takes hold.
News.com.au has confirmed that Australia's top Covid advisory group, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), is considering the option, with government sources describing it as "a medical question" they are leaving to the health experts.
It comes as the virus infected a stunning one in every 30 Londoners in the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve.
But Australia's hotel quarantine scheme is one reason why the dramatic step may not be taken, with the Morrison government weighing the impact of slamming the door on thousands of Australians seeking to return home.
The advice is that the new "mutant" variant is likely to be the more prominent global strain going forwards.
Epidemiologist and public health specialist Tony Blakely from the University of Melbourne said Australia needed to "close the border or strengthen it as much as we possibly can".
"We can close the border, that's quite radical, but it's on the table as a possibility or we strengthen the border," Blakely told ABC Breakfast.
"If we did shut the border with the UK and South Africa, the variant that's there will be in Spain, France, it's worldwide soon.
"We could well end up shutting the borders to everyone."
The Morrison government is also mindful that most other countries do not have hotel quarantine for international travellers - which is why they are only now closing borders.
Australia's borders have been effectively shut since March, with quarantine for returning Australians and essential workers.
Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed today Australia's rollout of the coronavirus vaccine could begin as early as the beginning of March instead of later in the month, as originally planned.
The vaccination programme is expected to run until October - the timetable the government expects it will take to vaccinate the majority of the community.
"Safety trumps everything," Hunt said.
"We've been able to bring our vaccination commencement schedule forward from the middle of the year to the second quarter, to late March and now to early March. And I'm not ruling out further steps."
Frontline workers, including those working in hotel quarantine and at the borders, are first in line when Australia starts its vaccine rollout, followed by health workers and residential aged care facility residents.
There are also concerns over the decision in the UK to rush out the vaccine to as many people as possible but to delay the second dose.
Britain's top Covid-19 adviser has confirmed overnight the plan to space the second vaccine dose by up to 12 weeks could spark a mutant strain and that is "a real worry but a small worry".
"By extending the gap, we are going to, over the next three months, be able to essentially double the number of people who can be vaccinated,'' he said.
The emergency measure is designed to give more people some protection from the virus faster.