Urgent calls for compulsory Covid testing for passengers

Urgent calls for compulsory Covid testing for passengers returning to Australia as UK strain arrives in the country

  • Calls for Australians returning home to be tested for coronavirus before flight 
  • They would have to return a negative test before they were able to board plane
  • Comes after the more infectious UK variant was found in quarantine passengers
  • Flight crews should also be tested and quarantined across nation, politicians say 

There are urgent calls for compulsory testing for passengers returning to Australia as the highly infectious UK mutant coronavirus strain arrives in the country. 

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan has led the calls after confirming three people in hotel quarantine in Perth have the more transmissible variant.    

NSW, Victoria and South Australia had all previously recorded cases in returned overseas travellers.

‘I think it would be a great safety mechanism to ensure that people coming out of many countries around the world have a test and confirm they are negative before they board a flight with hundreds of other Australians,’ he said.

Travellers to Australia should be tested for coronavirus and return a negative result to board a flight, Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan says. Pictured, a returned Australian entering hotel quarantine in Melbourne

‘And I think that safety measure should be implemented. To me, this is a no-brainer.’

The UK variant is believed to be up to 70 per cent more infectious than the original, causing havoc in England and prompting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to order a new national lockdown until at least mid-February.

Victoria has also called for flight crews to not only be tested but quarantined across the nation. 

Eight flight crew have tested positive for coronavirus out of the 1096 who have arrived in Victoria over the past fortnight – double the rate of other returned travellers in hotel quarantine. 

Victoria Police Minister Lisa Neville said other states should be following their lead with testing and quarantining air crew because they pose a high risk.   

‘I would be today saying to the other states this is such a high risk for all of us, for the country. Everyone needs to follow the lead around quarantining and testing of flight crews,’ she said. 

‘We’re fine in Victoria but flight crews are coming in right across the country (and pose) a significant risk to all of Australia.’

Victoria tests air crew within 90 minutes of their arrival at their quarantine hotel under tough new rules bought in on December 23.  

Mandatory testing of Australians returning home is seen as important in keeping coronavirus out of the country. Pictured, a nurse tests a patient in Wollongong after Greater Sydney was put on high alert following a coronavirus outbreak  

Air crew that test positive can only leave the country after 14 days and their colleagues can only fly out earlier if the plane does not carry any passengers.  

But political leaders are at odds with the compulsory testing regime. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says mandatory testing of airline passengers is not the answer, as it could give a false sense of confidence on arrival.

‘Most of the airlines do it anyway and on all the flights that we’re bringing back to Australia directly as a Commonwealth, we’re doing it,’ Mr Morrison told 3AW radio.

‘But we should stress that that doesn’t change the risk.

‘In some cases the argument is that it can be accentuated, it can highlight it, because people can be asymptomatic … or the virus hasn’t manifested itself yet at the time of travelling and that can create a complacency on the other side.’

Labor health spokesman Chris Bowen said it was important that more Australians were given the opportunity to return home.

‘But obviously this new strain in the United Kingdom is concerning,’ he said.

Air crew should also be tested and placed into quarantine on arrival in Australia, Victoria’s police minister says. Pictured, flight crew arriving in Sydney

‘So sensible measures like increased testing … do seem to me to be a sensible, good faith suggestion.’

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said there was ‘no one silver bullet’ to keep the community safe from variant viruses.

‘Just because you’re tested a couple of days before you get on the plane, you can develop the infection on the plane, you can develop as you’re getting off the plane, or the next day,’ she said.

Another international strain – a South African variant – was detected in a woman who arrived in Queensland on December 22 who went straight into hotel quarantine.

Australia has recorded 95 overseas acquired cases over the past week.

On Tuesday, Victoria recorded three locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and NSW revealed four new local cases.

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