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Some 2.5 million Queenslanders are being plunged back into lockdown, Greater Brisbane has been declared a national hotspot and other states are imposing travel restrictions, all due to a new community case of COVID-19.

The new case, a woman in her 20s, works as an occasional cleaner at a quarantine hotel in Brisbane and visited various stores and traveled by public transport while contagious.

So what about this new case that worries the health authorities so much?

Masks are now mandatory in Greater Brisbane following the new case of COVID-19 at a hotel cleaner. (9News)

New strain COVID-19 spreads faster

Like other viruses, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 is constantly mutating.

Most of the time, these mutations are useless, but every now and then, a mutation will prove advantageous, making the virus more transmissible or more deadly.

This new variant of COVID-19, known as VUI – 202012/01 or lineage B.1.1.7, has an unusual number and combination of mutations.
Patients arrive by ambulances at the Royal London Hospital. UK hospitals are under increasing pressure, with more than 50,000 COVID-19 cases diagnosed daily. (Getty)

It carries 14 defining mutations, including seven in spike protein, the protein that mediates virus entry into human cells.

In the UK, where the virus originated and has since become rampant, the new strain has been shown to be up to 70% more infectious than previous variants.

In more positive news, it does not appear to be more likely to result in a serious infection or less effective against current vaccines.

Why Australian health authorities are nervous

The increased transmissibility of the new variant means that safe COVID practices such as wearing masks and social distancing, which have been shown to be effective in containing previous small outbreaks in Australia, may not withstand the new strain.

This was a point made clear this morning by Queensland Health Director Dr. Jeanette Young.

“We have all seen other states, and indeed ourselves, deal with other cases and we have allowed things to continue and that has taken us weeks to get over it. But we got over it,” he said.

“I’m really worried that if we had cases of this infectious, very, very contagious virus, we wouldn’t be able to get over it.

“Once it spreads, it will be too late to act.”

How the Brisbane cleaner acquired the infection has also caused concern, with fears that the virus managed to defeat the strict health and safety protocols in place at Brisbane quarantine hotels.

The woman is the first infected quarantine worker in Queensland and health authorities have stressed that “she did everything right”.

How did the new strain get to Australia?

As with all recent outbreaks in Australia, the latest Brisbane case was acquired through travelers returning from quarantined hotels infected with the virus.

The B.1.1.7 strain was first identified in the English county of Kent on September 20, but it was not announced by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock until December 14.

Since then it has become the dominant strain in many parts of the UK and is now spreading rapidly around the world.

Travelers have flocked to Brisbane airport to try to get past border restrictions imposed by other states. (Nine)

At least 56 cases of the variant have been confirmed in the United States, where less than 1 percent of cases have genome sequencing, as well as many in Europe and Asia.

Today, Mr Morrison confirmed that 80 per cent of the countries that Australians return from have confirmed cases of the strain.

“This strain is likely to become, in the very near future, the dominant strain (worldwide), as it is already largely in the UK,” said Scott Morrison.

“So the idea that it can somehow be contained only outside the UK is a false hope.”

So will entire cities be blocked now every time there is a case?

That remains to be seen, but Morrison is not ruling it out.

“We’ll see, that’s my honest answer,” he said at today’s press conference.

“This is a very important issue and we will solve it, and we will learn what we need to learn from it, and that is what will guide future actions.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison provides an update on COVID-19 following a National Cabinet meeting on January 8. (9News)

This is expected to ease pressure on quarantined hotels and decrease the likelihood of infection breaches.

However, if the new B.1.1.7 virus becomes dominant worldwide, it is unlikely that the Brisbane woman will be the last case to escape Australia’s infection protocols.


www.9news.com.au

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