Australia will join the growing list of countries requiring that passengers arriving on international flights undergo a COVID-19 test before boarding the flight.
The move is one of several sparked by the spread of new mutated strains of the virus which are proving 70% more contagious.
"This strain is likely to become in the very near future the dominant strain globally, as it already is in the UK," suggested Prime Minister Scott Morrison in announcing a raft of new measures "to tighten the end-to-end process of approved international arrivals within Australia."
"Travellers to Australia must return a negative COVID-19 test result prior to departure to Australia."
PCR tests, not rapid tests
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the test was "a real-time PCR test" rather than a rapid test, and passengers would be required to show the results of that test before boarding their flight.
A positive result would not only bar that passenger from the flight but also prevent other members of their household from travel, due to the highly infectious nature of the new strains.
"This is the new rule now for everyone coming in," Kelly said. "if you're positive, you and your household contacts will be denied uplift."
Kelly added that this was already happening with the Government-underwritten repatriation flights operated by Qantas, where travellers must show a negative test result, with 15 people denied boarding on the most recent flight.
However, Kelly allowed that pre-flight testing wasn't foolproof, given the exposure gap between when a passenger might take their test – up to 72 hours before their flight – and when they arrive at the airport.
"If it's negative, that does not prove the next day, or even on the plane, they might become infectious," he said.
Instead, the testing added "another layer" to the "rings of containment that we've always had", which will continue to include 14-day quarantine paid for by travellers.
Given that pre-flight testing can cost several hundreds of dollars, adding to the already-high bill for flights and quarantine, Morrison said the government's hardship fund continued to be available "to Australians who are overseas... $15.5 million has been provided to people overseas to assist them."