The more virulent strain of Covid-19 that has stopped the United Kingdom in its tracks has arrived in Australia, it has been confirmed.
On Monday, NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant confirmed two travellers from the UK had brought the new strain into the country, which is estimated to be 70 per cent more transmissible than earlier versions of the virus.
"Today I'm advised that we've had a couple of UK returned travellers with the particular mutations you're referring to," Chant told reporters.
Chant did not say whether the couple was currently in hotel quarantine.
None of the 83 cases that have arisen out of the cluster in Sydney's Northern Beaches have matched the UK strain through genomic sequencing.
"Can I be very clear that the Avalon cluster strain does not have those mutations," Chant said. "But the key point, regardless, is that we need to treat all people with that end-to-end process of making sure that they're not coming in contact and there is not a risk of exposure to any residents in New South Wales."
New strain could enter NZ
New Zealand will see the new Covid-19 strain enter the country within the next few weeks, a top epidemiologist warns.
But such a scenario would only a problem for New Zealand if it starts an outbreak of community transmission, Professor Michael Baker said.
"This is probably not that surprising, that a strain like this would emerge because there is this evolutionary pressure on the virus, it's always got lots of variants floating around and if one is more infectious than others, it will create more viruses in the next generation and so on, so that strain becomes more dominant," Baker said.
"We will be bringing this virus into New Zealand now, or in the next few weeks, because it's becoming the dominant virus there."
It will be months before there is enough vaccine coverage in Australia and New Zealand and we are able to limit transmission, he said, and in that time New Zealand is arguably in "our most dangerous stage".
"Basically every time we get an infected person going into a MIQ facility in New Zealand, it increases the risk of outbreaks because mistakes happen and it's a tough virus to control."
An additional period of MIQ stay in the UK and having a negative test result before travelling would be a simple measure to add to our defences, he said.
Lockdown in London
England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty said there was no evidence to suggest the new strain caused a higher mortality rate or affected vaccines but was working to confirm that information.
The new strain forced UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to announce new restrictions for the Christmas period.
London and southeast England — about one-third of the English population — are currently at the highest level of a three-tier system of rules and will be placed in a new tier four level.
People will be required to stay at home except for essential reasons such as work, and non-essential retail will close, as will indoor leisure and entertainment.
A growing list of European Union nations have now barred travel from the UK.