All international travellers coming to Australia could be forced to have pre-flight tests and wear masks.
All international travellers coming to Australia could be forced to have pre-flight tests and wear masks.

Feds to step in with international pre-flight testing, masks

All international travellers coming to Australia would be forced to have pre-flight tests and wear masks in a crackdown sparked by concerns about the NSW Government's handling of ­border operations combined with the threat of the UK's new mutant COVID strain.

Airlines would also be ­required to swab flight crew weekly as a condition of flying here, with rapid testing introduced for UK arrivals to ­quickly detect the new strain.

Diana Barr comes out the gate at Cairns airport after Federal and local police checks after flying from Kenya. Picture: Stewart McLean
Diana Barr comes out the gate at Cairns airport after Federal and local police checks after flying from Kenya. Picture: Stewart McLean

Anyone found to be carrying the super bug would face a longer quarantine period after arriving in Australia.

An emergency national cabinet meeting has been called so leaders can discuss the proposals, which will be formally submitted after the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee meets today.

The Morrison Government is expected to announce measures imminently based on the AHPPC recommendations.

It is believed testing flight crew is one of a number of concerns held by the Victorian government about NSW's border operations.

The Telegraph can reveal all staff working in NSW's health accommodation used to house COVID-positive returned travellers will be tested daily from January 21 in a bid to increase infection control.

Patient transport workers who transfer infected travellers into NSW Health quarantine hotels will be among the staff that will get daily saliva tests from later this month, after two workers caught the virus from an infected family from the US - an infection which sparked the current outbreak in Berala.

However NSW Health still has no concrete plans for foreign airline crew to be tested on arrival.

A family checks in for a domestic Qantas flight with assistance from a Qantas staff member. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard
A family checks in for a domestic Qantas flight with assistance from a Qantas staff member. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard

Health authorities will "progressively" work to test international crews on their arrival into Sydney but testing of other staff in the border ­operation is currently considered more important.

NSW and interstate-based airline crew must get a test after arriving in NSW if they want to quarantine at home but there is no requirement for foreign-based crew who are now forced into a police-run hotel while they stay here.

The Victorian government is calling for stronger action against the threat of the British strain, which is up to 50 per cent more infectious than the strain that caused the southern state's second wave. The killer strain has forced England into its third total lockdown.

Scott Morrison said a special meeting would be held on Friday following a week of medical expert panel meetings.

"The meeting is to consider a proposal that I requested through our Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, from our national expert medical panel, the AHPPC," the Prime Minister said.

"The proposal is to further strengthen the COVID safety of end-to-end international travel processes, from arrival at airport of embarkation in the exit country to final clearance from hotel quarantine in Australia."

Mr Morrison said the AHPPC had been focused on how to deal with the UK strain.

"The AHPPC has continued to meet every day during this most recent outbreak, and had an initial discussion of their proposal today," he said.

"They will discuss the proposal further tomorrow before making a formal submission to ­national cabinet."

Despite most foreign crews flying out of Australia before test results are returned, testing airline staff for COVID-19 could give greater "intelligence" about future leaks if they occur, Dr Chant said yesterday.

"The purpose of flight crew testing is more in terms of giving you a time point for genomic sequencing which might inform if you already have the (virus) escape," she said.

"It is important that we focus on the key risks, I can only ask so much of our staff at this point in time."

Qantas has indicated its staff will be regularly tested but there is less certainty about other airlines.

Dr Chant said authorities will "progressively look at testing the airlines' (crews)".

She said NSW Health has also had "advice from the airlines in regards to their testing frequency".

Security guards working in police-run quarantine hotels have received daily saliva tests since December 14.

Surveillance testing of other staff in the police-run quarantine hotels will be rolled out throughout January and February.

In a statement regarding the quarantine operation, NSW Health said 6,342 travellers have gone through the special 'Health hotels', including 890 COVID-positive cases.

Since the end of March, 306 international travellers were transferred to RPA for assessment and treatment including 17 COVID-positive cases.

Originally published as Feds to step in with international pre-flight testing, masks