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Australia Australia extends suspension of New Zealand travel bubble

07:16  28 january  2021
07:16  28 january  2021 Source:   theage.com.au

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 16: Passengers wearing facemasks as they arrive into the international arrivals area at Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport after landing on Air New Zealand flight number NZ103 from Auckland on October 16, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. Travellers from New Zealand are now able to visit New South Wales without having to quarantine under a new one-way trans-Tasman travel agreement.  (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images) © 2020 James D. Morgan Passengers wearing facemasks as they arrive into the international arrivals area at Sydney

Australia has extended its suspension of the travel bubble with New Zealand for a further 72 hours after more community cases were reported.

The travel arrangements allowing people to travel from New Zealand to Australia without undertaking quarantine have been suspended until 2pm Sunday after two new cases with the new highly-contagious strain of COVID-19 were detected in Auckland this week. The initial suspension period was due to end at 2pm AEDT on Thursday.

On Sunday, a woman infected with the highly transmissible South African variant tested positive after being released into the community, following her release into the community. She returned two negative tests while in hotel quarantine at the Pullman Hotel.

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Two more people, who stayed at the same Auckland hotel as the woman, tested positive after completing their quarantine period.

He said all of the close contacts of the first case and five of the 11 close contacts of the subsequent two cases have tested negative. The remaining tests are still pending.

Health authorities are now trying to track down nine people who travelled from New Zealand to Australia and may be at risk of having the new strain.

"[We were] advised about a new case of COVID-19 in New Zealand on Sunday," Australia's Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said on Thursday.

"On Monday, following rapid gene sequencing, authorities advised that person was infected with one of the COVID variants of concern, which is more transmissible and presents a heightened level of risk.

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"It is 15 per cent more transmissible than previous strains."

People arriving in Australia from New Zealand have had to go into hotel quarantine since Monday, and this new arrangement will now continue until 2pm on Sunday, January 31.

"This allows for the continued protection of the people of Australia while the extent of the situation in New Zealand continues to be clarified," Professor Kidd said.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Thursday afternoon that New Zealand authorities told the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee of the new cases.

The AHPPC, the key decision-making committee for federal health emergencies, that all three confirmed COVID-19 cases in the community in New Zealand have been genomically linked to an international traveller in hotel quarantine in Auckland.

Of particular concern to the committee was the fact the fresh New Zealand outbreak is connected to the B.1.351 COVID-19 variant, which health authorities say been shown to have higher transmissibility and therefore presents a heightened level of risk.

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The B.1.351 variant is estimated to be 50 per cent more transmissible "based on the available evidence", Mr Hunt said.

The health minister also said the variant has spread to 26 countries, including to people who have arrived in Australia who are in mandatory hotel quarantine.

The federal government accepted the recommendation of the AHPPC and Acting CMO to extend the pause for a further three days.

The government also said quarantine arrangements, which are the responsibility of the states, may have to be reviewed for travellers from New Zealand.

In the meantime, Australian health authorities are trying to track down people who arrived in Australia after having been in quarantine at the Pullman Hotel.

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"Twelve people who were in quarantine at the Pullman Hotel have arrived in Sydney, three have travelled on to Honk Kong and health authorities there have been notified," Professor Kidd said.

"Two travelled onto Queensland, and authorities there have been notified.

"The others are all being followed up in NSW and are being tested."

He said anyone who arrived from New Zealand since January 9 is now being asked to get tested and self-isolate until they receive a negative result, particular if they stayed at the Pullman Hotel.

There have been no new cases of community transmission of the virus in Australia for 11 days.

The vaccine rollout

Professor Kidd also said the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations is on track to commence in late February, with 80,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine expected to be available every week.

Australia is also expecting to receive 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March "subject to approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and final shipping confirmation", he said.

An agreement under which Australia will produce 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine onshore is expected to begin in late March and deliver one million doses every week.

"Because of our onshore manufacturing agreement … we have certainty of vaccine supply in a time of uncertainty," Professor Kidd said.

"There will be daily, sometimes hourly, stories coming from around the world on vaccine rollout. Some of these will affect Australia, most will not."

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