Australia's national cabinet to meet early amid UK COVID-19 variant worries

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s national cabinet will meet a month earlier than scheduled on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, as authorities seek to stop the spread of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 that emerged in Britain.

FILE PHOTO: Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, removes his protective face mask after arriving for a signing ceremony with Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s prime minister at Suga’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan November 17, 2020. Kiyoshi Ota/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The meeting will consider a proposal from the national expert medical panel to further strengthen the travel rules for its citizens and residents returning from overseas, Morrison wrote in a Facebook post late Wednesday.

“This is being done particularly in the context of the UK strain,” Morrison said.

Australian media reported the federal government has plans to introduce mandatory COVID-19 testing for all international travelers before they board their flights to the country.

Australia created a national cabinet in March, when it closed its international borders, and includes federal, state and territory leaders to coordinate measures to combat the pandemic. The next meeting was scheduled on Feb. 5.

Australian authorities are trying to contain new virus clusters in its largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne and reintroduced restrictions on movement and gatherings.

A cricket test match between Australia and India, meanwhile, will begin on Thursday in Sydney with crowd capacity capped at around 10,000. Fans will have to wear masks inside the stadium at all times except when eating or drinking.

Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, on Thursday reported zero local cases for the first time since new infections were detected there last week.

Australia has reported a total of just over 28,500 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began, with border closures and speedy tracking systems helping keep numbers relatively low. (Graphic:

($1 = 1.2807 Australian dollars)

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