Australia Cuts Traveler Numbers to Stop Variant

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) -
A closed down travel agency is seen in the wake of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak that again resulted in some states shutting their borders, in Sydney, Australia, Wednesday. (Reuters/Loren Elliott)

Australia is nearly halving the number of passengers allowed to arrive by plane in a bid to prevent the spread of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain.

A cleaner at a Brisbane quarantine hotel diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday is the first person infected with the variant found in the Australian community. Other cases have been detected among travelers while in hotel quarantine, where there is little risk of community spread.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said state leaders had agreed that international arrivals to New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia state airports would be halved until Feb. 15. Arrivals at Victoria were already relatively low and would remain unchanged.

Quarantine workers would be tested for the virus daily.

Authorities in Brisbane are locking Australia’s third-most populous city down for three days beginning Friday evening to contain the spread.

Australian Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly said anyone who had been in Brisbane since Jan. 2 should also isolate.

“Our main issue is to keep Australians safe and to really make sure that this particular strain is not the one that becomes circulating in Australia,” Kelly said. “The reason is because it will be much more difficult to control.”

Masks will also become compulsory for the first time in Brisbane and some surrounding municipalities, the Queensland state government said.

The state Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young noted the more contagious nature of the variant had made the U.K. outbreak more difficult to control. “So we need to act really, really fast. We need to find every single case now,” Young added.

The woman’s diagnosis ends almost four months of no locally acquired infections in Queensland.