Date published: 
22 December 2020
Type: 
News
Intended audience: 
General public
AHPPC statement

AHPPC notes a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has emerged in the United Kingdom (UK). The variant has several differences in its genome (mutations) in comparison to other SARS-CoV-2 viruses. This new variant is now common among the increasing cases in South East England.

At this stage, it is not clear whether the mutations are responsible for the higher growth rates in cases. It could also be a combination of factors such as a mutation, winter, super spreading events, or found in areas or populations where people live in more crowded settings.

Mutations are common in SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses, and usually do not affect the infectivity or severity of disease. There is no evidence that this variant of the virus causes more severe disease. The vaccines procured for Australia induce a broad immune response to protect individuals. There is no evidence at this stage that these vaccines would not be effective against the UK variant.

The AHPPC notes the UK has designated the variant as a ‘variant of concern’ and will continue to monitor the situation. The AHPPC awaits more evidence from the UK, but has no current concerns for spread of this variant in Australia. Since 28 March 2020, all international travelers arriving in Australia have been required to undergo government mandated 14 day quarantine. AHPPC recognises that this significantly decreases the risk of this virus variant entering the Australian community. Other countries, including the UK, do not have stringent quarantine requirements for international arrivals.

Four cases with this variant have been documented in Australia, 2 in NSW and Victoria respectively at this time. All cases have been or are being managed in hotel quarantine and the variant has not spread into the community. Australia has a world class system for genetic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 to be able to detect occurrence of this variant.

This variant is not the cause of the current NSW cluster.

Read previous statements from the AHPPC.