Gladys Berejiklian’s warning about new mutant coronavirus strains


NSW Health authorities say we must assume mutant strains of coronavirus will become the more dominant disease going forward.

A surge in cases in the UK that began at the end of last year was sparked by the new infectious strain of the virus, called VUI202012/01.

It’s become notorious for spreading faster than other types of the coronavirus, but there is no evidence it’s more deadly.

The strain first entered Australia last month, and virus experts in NSW, which has been the entry point for most overseas travellers since the pandemic began, expect the UK variant to become more prevalent.

“We have to assume that these more transmissible variants of the disease will become the more dominant disease,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Wednesday.

She said a planned month-long slowdown of international arrivals would give NSW Health time to “assess what the variants of the disease are doing”.

The realisation that a Brisbane hotel worker had caught the UK strain from a returned passenger in quarantine caused the Queensland government to shut down the city over the weekend.

On Wednesday officials in that state said six people tested positive to the strain after staying in the same hotel.

NSW reported one new local case on Wednesday, a household contact of a previous infection.

The spread of the new strain, and reports of at least one other mutant strain evolving elsewhere, has prompted NSW authorities to modify the state’s guidelines around quarantining.

“We need to make clear, that if you do have one of these variants, the clock starts ticking for your hotel quarantine on the day your symptoms materialise, not the day you entered quarantine,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“This is a significant thing to learn. If it means we have to tighten up around hotel quarantine, this is the time to make those evaluations. It gives us time to do that.”

NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said that while her team is concerned about the new strain’s increased transmissibility, experts haven’t ruled out that other factors might be contributing to the increased spread in the UK.

A current escalating wave of infections in the UK has packed hospitals with more sick people than during the peak of the first wave in April.

“The virus is clearly contributing to the increased picture, the increased number of cases in the UK, but there are also other contextual factors about where the UK is, in the middle of winter,” Dr Chant said.

“We know that indoor settings, where you’re crowded inside, and particularly in households or small indoor venues, you’re going to encourage the virus to be more readily transmitted.”

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