- PM is in Brussels to urge EU leaders to move on to trade talks as son as possible
- But Irish PM Leo Varadkar said the transition deal must be sorted out first
- Theresa May was handed her first legislative defeat after losing Commons vote
- The vote could undermine Mrs May in Brussels and tighten the Brexit timetable
- Boris Johnson said Brexit is unstoppable and UK will get a good deal despite vote
Published: 19:44 EST, 13 December 2017 | Updated: 11:17 EST, 14 December 2017
The Irish PM today warned that Brexit trade talks will not start until March as he pledged his loyalty to his country's 'new best friends' the EU.
Leo Varadkar played down expectations negotiations will move swiftly on to the details of our future relationship immediately after an EU summit signs off the first stage of talks as expected tomorrow.
It comes as Theresa May arrives in Brussels to pitch for an 'ambitious' trade deal with the Brussels club.
She tried to shrug off last night's humiliating Brexit Bill defeat, inflicted upon her by 11 Tory rebels, describing it as 'disappointing' but insisting the Government is still 'on course'.
Speaking at the beginning of the EU summit in Brussels today, Mr Varadkar said: 'Ireland is a member of the European Union so our best friends are the 27 member states…
'As a remaining member our very closest relations have to be with other members of the European Union just as they were our closes friends in the weeks gone by.
Theresa May turned up in Brussels today for the gathering of leaders that is due to sign off starting trade talks
Leo Varadkar (pictured, left, arriving in Brussels for the summit today) said Ireland's best friends are the EU. While Theredsa May (pictured right) arriving in Brussels today, tried to shrug off last night's setback telling reporters ministers are still on course to deliver Brexit
Mr Varadkar said he expects the next three months of talks to be devoted to the transition deal, adding: 'And once we have that done, we can then talk about the new trading relationship.'
His comments are a blow for Mrs May who has travelled to the Belgian capital to urge leaders of the 27 other member states to kick start trade talks as soon as possible.
And it comes after she suffered her first parliamentary defeat on her flagship Brexit Bill as Tory rebels joined with Labour and the Lib Dems to back an amendment which gives MPs a meaningful vote on the final deal.
The PM struck a bullish tone despite the defeat by stressing that she had won the vast majority of votes on the legislation.
She told reporters: 'I am disappointed with the amendment but actually the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is making good progress through the House of Commons and we are on course to deliver on Brexit,' she told reporters.
'We have have had 36 votes, and we have won 35 of them.'
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson today insisted that Brexit is 'unstoppable' and vowed the UK will 'get it done in a very successful way'.
But while Mrs May had hoped for a victorious meeting after finally sealing a Brexit divorce bill last week, she is facing fresh questions after events in Westminster.
Eleven Conservative MPs rebelled to give the Commons a 'meaningful' vote over any Brexit agreement with the EU, despite government pleas to let ministers retain control.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived by car for the EU gathering in Belgium today (pictured right). Mrs May is in Brussels for a key summit hosted by EU council president Donald Tusk (left)
Boris Johnson (pictured in Greenwich today with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, far right, and their Japanese counterparts Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, 2nd right, and Foreign Minister Taro Kono). He said that Brexit is 'unstoppable' despite last night's setback
The result sparked a furious war of words between the rebels and Brexiteers, with one MP even calling for colleagues to be deselected for undermining the PM's negotiating position.
Leading Remainer Anna Souby faced heckles in the chamber this morning that the revolt's ringleaders had been 'drinking champagne' in Westminster's bars after inflicting the defeat. She angrily denied taking any 'pleasure' in rebelling.
The European parliament's chief Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt also waded into the row by mocking the Vote Leave referendum slogan, saying the Commons had 'taken back control'.
But EU leaders and other MEPs suggested the amendment would make no difference as there is no chance of negotiations being reopened after October next year.
European Council president Donald Tusk told journalists as he arrived at the summit that the first phase of Brexit talks were coming to an end.
But he warned that the next stage, covering a transition period and trade negotiations, would be even tougher.
'By the way, I have no doubt that the real test of our unity will be the second phase of the Brexit talks,' he said.
Arriving shortly before Mrs May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was 'a good chance that the second phase can now begin'.
WHAT DOES THE RESULT MEAN?
Ministers had proposed that Parliament could have a 'take it or leave it' vote on Theresa May's final Brexit deal with Brussels.
If they rejected it, Britain would leave with no deal.
But rebels feared the vote would come too late to give them a 'meaningful' say on the shape of Brexit.
Now, as result of last night's vote, MPs and peers have the opportunity to amend any deal and in theory force Mrs May back to the negotiating table.
Dutch PM Mark Rutte said the UK now needed to 'make up its mind' what kind of relationship it wanted from the EU in future.
He said Mrs May had been 'wise' to 'hold her cards close to her heart' until now, but added: 'Having now hopefully passed the mark of phase one, I think we need from her to understand how she sees this relationship with the European Union.
'It is now for the UK to make up its mind.'
Irish PM Leo Varadkar, who pushed for commitments from Mrs May on the Irish border during divorce deal talks, heralded a new battle over the timetable for negotiations.
He told reporters: 'The indicative timetable is that we will spend the next three months or so working on the withdrawal agreement, putting into a legal, international agreement what was agreed last week, talking a bit about the two-year transition phase. And once we have that done, we can then talk about the new trading relationship.'
Mr Varadkar also jibed that Ireland's 'best friends' were the EU rather than Britain, and their interests would come first.
Answering questions in the Commons this morning, David Davis warned Tory rebels they had 'compressed the timetable' for Brexit and refused to rule out trying to reverse the setback later in the legislative process.
'We will have to decide how we respond to it,' he said.
The government was defeated by a margin of four votes, losing 309 to 305 and Labour MPs joined the rebels in cheering and applauding as the extraordinary result was announced last night.
The Prime Minister was at a memorial for the Grenfell tragedy at St Paul's earlier today before attending the summit in Brussels
The EU parliament's Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt gloated about the bloody nose suffered by Mrs May
Mr Grieve's amendment demands ministers pass a full law enshrining the exit deal before the Government is allowed start implementing it.
It puts huge new pressure on the Brexit timetable approaching exit day on March 29, 2019.
Rebels hope it will allow Parliament to reject anything they consider a bad deal for Britain in time for further negotiation.
But speaking as he arrived at the EU summit today, Luxembourg PM Xavier was asked whether the bloc would renegotiate if MPs voted down a deal.
He replied: 'No.'
Danuta Hübner, a Polish MEP, who chairs the European parliament's constitutional affairs committee, said any Commons vote after the tentative date for a deal of October next year would still be take it or leave it.
'Once it is finalised and it is signed by both parties, then any change to it means reopening negotiations, meaning we will not make it within the two years (ending March 2019), meaning there is a hard Brexit,' she told the Guardian.
Mrs May left Westminster and was on the red carpet at the Sun's 'Military Awards' minutes after the humiliating defeat last night.
And today she attended a memorial for the Grenfell tragedy at St Paul's today, before heading for Brussels for the summit.
A furious Mrs May quickly sacked former minister Stephen Hammond from his role as Tory vice-chairman after he joined the revolt last night.
Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire accused the rebels of 'putting a spring in Labour's step, given them a taste of winning'.
EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker was in Brussels for the summit today
A rebellion of Conservative MPs secured a crunch Commons vote 309 to 305 – handing Mrs May her first ever legislative defeat by just four votes in an historic blow to her already shaky credibility (pictured is the vote being declared last night)
Labour MPs bunched the air in jubilation and Remain MPs across the Commons cheered and applauded as the extraordinary vote was announced (pictured)
'They have guaranteed the party a weekend of bad press, undermined the PM and devalued her impact in Brussels,' she said.
'They should be deselected and never allowed to stand as a Tory MP, ever again.'
To compound her difficulties, Mrs May faces another knife-edge vote in the Commons next week over fixing the Brexit date in law of March 29, 2019.
WELBY LIKENS BREXIT ROW TO WAR AS HE URGES 'CEASEFIRE'
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
The Archbishop of Canterbury has likened the Brexit row to the Great War as he called for a Christmas truce.
Justin Welby called for a 'ceasefire' on the use of insults, 'personalised attacks' and 'pejorative terms' as the process of leaving the European Union continues.
Dr Welby said: 'If we go back 103 years, we find Christmas 1914 there was a ceasefire. It would be very good to have a ceasefire from insult and the use of pejorative terms about people at this time.
'As a country, we have a future ahead of us, we have made a decision about Brexit, that is clear, both sides are saying that.
'How we do that is a question for robust political argument, but there is a difference between disagreeing and personalised attacks – and those have to be avoided.
'If we are going to make a success of Brexit, and it's perfectly possible to do and in fact we should make a success of it – it gives opportunities as well as challenges – then we need a political leadership that is united in their attitude to the future, even if divided on policy.
'Therefore we do need reconciliation and unity.'
But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt played down the impact today, insisting the Brexit process would not be derailed.
'I don't think it should be a surprise that in a hung Parliament, Parliament wants to reassert its right to scrutinise the process,' he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. 'But we should also be clear this isn't going to slow down Brexit, it's not going to stop Brexit.'
Asked whether MPs now had the power to force the Government back to the negotiating table, Mr Hunt said: 'Parliament can say whatever it wants but of course renegotiation is something that involves two parties.'
As the rebellion built, Justice Minister Dominic Raab offered last ditch assurances that powers in the legislation that trouble Tory rebels will not be used until the exit agreement is written into UK law.
At 6.45pm he returned to the Despatch Box to promise MPs he would turn his assurance into an amendment if MPs back down.
His concession appeared to peal off at least two Tory rebels as Vicky Ford and Paul Masterton backed down.
Two Labour MPs – Frank Field and Kate Hoey – voted with the Government.
But after Mr Grieve declared 'It's too late, I'm sorry, you cannot treat the House in this fashion' other rebels inflicted the punishing defeat.
Insisting the rebellion would go ahead this afternoon, Mr Grieve quoted Winston Churchill as warned Mrs May: 'A good party man…will put his country before his party.'
After the vote, a Government spokesman said: 'We are disappointed that Parliament has voted for this amendment despite the strong assurances that we have set out.
'We are as clear as ever that this Bill, and the powers within it, are essential.
'This amendment does not prevent us from preparing our statute book for exit day. We will now determine whether further changes are needed to the Bill to ensure it fulfils its vital purpose.'
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn branded it a 'a humiliating loss of authority for the Government on the eve of the European Council meeting'.
The debate saw furious blue-on-blue exchanges as Brexiteers Bernard Jenkin and Bill Cash rose to defend the Government.
David Davis today warned the rebels they had 'compressed the timetable' for Brexit by forcing through an amendment to the flagship EU Withdrawal Bill (pictured left). Former minister Anna Soubry angrily denied heckles in the Commons about alleged celebrations of the PM's setback (pictured right)
Former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan posted a message after the vote and said: 'Parliament took control of the EU Withdrawal process'
Mr Grieve warned the Government he had tried to be helpful but that on the issue of a meaningful vote 'we have run out of road – and all rational discourse starts to evaporate'.
He said this has led to 'confrontation' in which it is 'suggested the underlying purpose is sabotage, followed by hurling of public abuse' including by other Tories.
Signalling support for the amendment, Mr Clarke said the key thing around a meaningful vote was its timing, adding: 'The vote's got to take place before the British Government has committed itself to the terms of the treaty-like agreement that is entered into with the other members.
ELEVEN TORY REBELS ENOUGH TO DEFEAT MAY
Eleven Conservative MPs were enough to defeat Theresa May.
The 11 rebels were:
A 12th Tory in the aye lobby was John Stevenson who voted both ways – an active abstention
'Any other vote is not meaningful.'
Mr Clarke said it was 'quite obvious' that the Government was not going to be 'remotely near' a detailed agreement by March 2019.
He added: 'It's not a question, I may say, to my desperately paranoid eurosceptic friends, that somehow I am trying in some surreptitious Remainer way to put a spoke in the wheels of the vast progress of the United Kingdom towards the destination to which we are going.
'But they don't know what Leave means, because nobody discussed what Leave meant when we were having the referendum.'
Another rebel, Antoinette Sandbach, expressed fears that a vote on a Brexit deal motion outlined by the Government could be 'meaningless'.
In an attempt to sooth rebel concerns, Mr Raab vowed powers they want to modify – that allow ministers to bring in the exit agreement using secondary legislation – would not be used until Parliament has voted on the deal as a whole.
Offering a political assurance – rather than a change to the bill – Mr Raab said: 'None of the Statutory Instruments will come into effect until Parliament has voted on the final deal.'
He urged the rebels to drop their amendment, adding: 'If we waited for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill not just to be introduced after the withdrawal agreement has been signed, but fully enacted, waiting for the full passage of that to happen we would not have the time deal with the volume of technical legislation that we need to put through under secondary legislation.
'There is no getting around the timing issue, we have got the long tail of technical regulatory secondary legislation we need to get through if we want to provide legal certainty that will make a smooth Brexit.'
Brexiteer Nadine Dorries reacted furiously to the vote, demanding the rebels be 'deselected'
The four abstaining Tories who could have made a difference
Four Tory MPs are thought to have abstained in last night's vote.
They included Ed Vaizey, a member of David Cameron's 'chumocracy' who was fired by Mrs May and said he was 'hurt, bitter, thoroughly p****d off' about it.
He also said Mr Cameron had 'sort of stuffed the country by accident' with Brexit.
Ed Vaizey (pictured) was a member of David Cameron's 'chumocracy' and was fired by Mrs May
Another notable abstainer was George Freeman, who resigned his position on Mrs May's backbench policy board and has claimed the party risks being seen as one of 'nostalgia, hard Brexit and lazy privilege'.
Others were Carlisle MP John Stevenson, whose seat voted strongly for Leave, and Paul Masterton, who represents the heavily Remainer seat of East Renfrewshire.
Dover MP Charlie Elphicke, who has been suspended by the party over allegations of sexual misconduct, also abstained. He no longer holds the whip.
The debate saw furious blue-on-blue exchanges as Brexiteers Bernard Jenkin (left) and Bill Cash (right) rose to defend the Government
Pictured are Tory MPs – including many of the rebels – in the Commons on Wednesday afternoon
At Prime Minister's Questions, Mrs May said: 'We will put the final withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it comes into force.'
She said Westminster would be given a vote ahead of the European Parliament and 'well before' the date of Brexit in March 2019.
WHIP FACES BULLYING ROW OVER CLAIM MP WAS REDUCED TO TEARS
Tory chief whip Julian Smith (pictured outside No 10 last month) has reportedly told backbenchers they could be sued
Ministers have been hit by a bullying row after a Tory whip allegedly reduced a female MP to tears as they scrambled to try to head off a Brexit rebellion tonight.
A male whip is said to have used 'bully boy tactics' to try to cajole the MP into not defying the Government on a crunch Brexit vote.
The woman is said to have started crying and trembling after receiving the harsh dressing down – a claim No10 have said is 'categorically not true'.
But another report says the chief whip Julian Smith has threatened to sue rebels if they make defamatory allegations about the tactics used to keep them in line.
The claims have surfaced as tensions soar ahead of an expected Tory rebellion tonight on the flagship Brexit Bill demanding MPs are given a meaningful vote on the deal.
It would be Theresa May's first proper defeat on a piece of legislation and a major blow for the PM ahead of a major EU summit in Brussels tomorrow.
Anna Soubry, a leading Tory rebel, accused a Tory whip of overstepping the mark and resorting to bullying to strong-arm MPs into toeing the line.
'To be clear, the final deal will be agreed before we leave and Honourable and Right Honourable Members will get a vote on it,' Mrs May told the Commons.
Answering later questions, Mrs May said the Grieve amendment could risk a 'smooth and orderly Brexit' by squeezing the timetable too far.
Former constitution minister John Penrose offered support to Mrs May ahead of the vote.
He said: 'The Government has already promised not only a full-scale vote on the EU deal as soon as it's been struck, but up to two more 'ratification votes' plus an entire Act of Parliament before it becomes law.
'That's as much, or more, than even the most fervent democrat could reasonably ask.
'The Prime Minister negotiated a far better ''stage 1'' deal last week than the doom-mongers were predicting.
'Let's not repay her by sending her off to Brussels with an unnecessary and unfair amendment that will only make her job harder.'
In an attempt to head off defeat, Brexit Secretary David Davis has written to MPs insisting there will be a vote in the Commons on the term of the exit arrangements but that the amendment goes too far.
The Brexit Department today repeated a promise there would be a Commons vote on the exit deal before it is implemented.
The Government has also promised to enshrine a withdrawal treaty in law but said this might not happen before exit day.
But Mr Grieve told Sky News: 'I have no desire to defeat my government at all, I am not a rebel, I think I have only rebelled once over a local issue in the 21 years I have been in parliament.
'I don't want to do that but the Government needs to listen to what has been said to them and at the moment unfortunately my impression of the last few days when I have been talking to the Government is it seems to be a bit of a dialogue of the deaf.
'They have sort of turned this into a battle of wills and this is a completely pointless exercise.
'They need to listen to the point that is being made and they need to respond to it.'
Junior Brexit minister Steve Baker told peers this morning: 'There can only be a vote on the withdrawal agreement.'
He said the vote on whether to follow the instruction of the referendum and leave the EU has already happened when MPs backed invoking Article 50.
And he tweeted: 'Today's amendment 7 to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is misplaced, however well-intentioned.'
GOVERNMENT DEFEAT: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Twelve Tories rebelled against the Government tonight to consign it to an historic defeat on Brexit.
But the result – a narrow four vote win – does not stop Brexit or even derail this legislation.
What it does do is make significantly more complicated the path to Brexit day and rebels hope it will allow them to change the exit deal or even delay departure.
The first step for the Government is to keep pushing the legislation through Parliament – there are more votes to win tonight and more debate this evening.
Another dangerous day of committee stage debate is due next week, including the prospect of another defeat.
Then the Bill returns to the Commons in January for more scrutiny and more changes. It must then go through the House of Lords.
The amendment passed tonight demands ministers pass a full law enshrining the exit deal before the Government is allowed start implementing it.
It puts huge new pressure on the Brexit timetable approaching exit day on March 29, 2019.
Ministers could try to change the new amendment with re-writes of their own at the later stages.
In a letter to MPs, Brexit Secretary Davis specifically referred to Mr Grieve's attempt to rewrite the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and said he was responding to concerns 'by making clear that there will be a number of votes for Parliament on the final deal we strike with the EU'.
The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier wants the withdrawal deal finalised by October 2018 and the Government has committed to hold a vote in Parliament as soon as possible after the negotiations have concluded.
Mr Davis said the deal would have to go through the normal treaty ratification process and there would then be primary legislation on the Brexit deal.
The Brexit Secretary said: 'If Parliament supports the resolution to proceed with the withdrawal agreement and the terms for our future relationship, the Government will bring forward a Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill to give the withdrawal agreement domestic legal effect.
'The Bill will implement the terms of the withdrawal agreement in UK law as well as providing a further opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny.
'This legislation will be introduced before the UK exits the EU and the substantive provisions will only take effect from the moment of exit.'
The Government swerved possible defeat last night with concessions on so-called Henry VIII powers in the legislation.
And another very tight vote is expected next Wednesday as ministers stand behind controversial plans to write the Exit Date into the withdrawal legislation.
Yesterday, Conservative former leader Iain Duncan Smith accused Mr Grieve and his supporters of 'grandstanding' and trying to tie the Government's hands in the Brexit talks.
'I think this is looking for ways to derail the bill,' he told The World At One.
'There comes a moment when really grandstanding has to stop. Tying the Government's hands in the way that he would wish to tie them so early on is quite wrong.'
Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis was pictured leaving the Houses of Parliament last night
The post Humiliated Theresa May heads to Brussels for summit appeared first on News Wire Now.
Sydney seaplane crash: Exhaust fumes affected pilot, report confirms
The pilot of a seaplane that crashed into an Australian river, killing all on board, had been left confused and disorientated by leaking exhaust fumes, investigators have confirmed.
The Canadian pilot and five members of a British family died in the crash north of Sydney in December 2017.
All were found to have higher than normal levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, a final report has found.
It recommended the mandatory fitting of gas detectors in all such planes.
British businessman Richard Cousins, 58, died alongside his 48-year-old fiancée, magazine editor Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather and his sons, Edward, 23, and William, 25, and pilot Gareth Morgan, 44. Mr Cousins was the chief executive of catering giant Compass.
The family had been on a sightseeing flight in the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver plane when it nose-dived into the Hawkesbury River at Jerusalem Bay, about 50km (30 miles) from the city centre.
The final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) confirmed the findings of an interim report published in 2020.
It said pre-existing cracks in the exhaust collector ring were believed to have released exhaust gas into the engine bay. Holes left by missing bolts in a firewall then allowed the fumes to enter the cabin.
“As a result, the pilot would have almost certainly experienced effects such as confusion, visual disturbance and disorientation,” the report said.
“Consequently, it was likely that this significantly degraded the pilot’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.”
The ATSB recommended the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitting of carbon monoxide detectors in piston-engine aircraft that carry passengers.
It previously issued safety advisory notices to owners and operators of such aircraft that they install detectors “with an active warning” to pilots”. Operators and maintainers of planes were also advised to carry out detailed inspections of exhaust systems and firewalls.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55862128
Australia unlikely to fully reopen border in 2021, says top official
Australia is unlikely to fully open its borders in 2021 even if most of its population gets vaccinated this year as planned, says a senior health official.
The comments dampen hopes raised by airlines that travel to and from the country could resume as early as July.
Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy made the prediction after being asked about the coronavirus’ escalation in other nations.
Dr Murphy spearheaded Australia’s early action to close its borders last March.
“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.
“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus,” he said, adding that he believed quarantine requirements for travellers would continue “for some time”.
Citizens, permanent residents and those with exemptions are allowed to enter Australia if they complete a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Qantas – Australia’s national carrier – reopened bookings earlier this month, after saying it expected international travel to “begin to restart from July 2021.”
However, it added this depended on the Australian government’s deciding to reopen borders.
Australia’s tight restrictions
The country opened a travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand late last year, but currently it only operates one-way with inbound flights to Australia.
Australia has also discussed the option of travel bubbles with other low-risk places such as Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.
A vaccination scheme is due to begin in Australia in late February. Local authorities have resisted calls to speed up the process, giving more time for regulatory approvals.
Australia has so far reported 909 deaths and about 22,000 cases, far fewer than many nations. It reported zero locally transmitted infections on Monday.
Experts have attributed much of Australia’s success to its swift border lockdown – which affected travellers from China as early as February – and a hotel quarantine system for people entering the country.
Local outbreaks have been caused by hotel quarantine breaches, including a second wave in Melbourne. The city’s residents endured a stringent four-month lockdown last year to successfully suppress the virus.
Other outbreaks – including one in Sydney which has infected about 200 people – prompted internal border closures between states, and other restrictions around Christmas time.
The state of Victoria said on Monday it would again allow entry to Sydney residents outside of designated “hotspots”, following a decline in cases.
While the measures have been praised, many have also criticised them for separating families across state borders and damaging businesses.
Dr Murphy said overall Australia’s virus response had been “pretty good” but he believed the nation could have introduced face masks earlier and improved its protections in aged care homes.
In recent days, Australia has granted entry to about 1,200 tennis players, staff and officials for the Australian Open. The contingent – which has recorded at least nine infections – is under quarantine.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55699581
Covid: Brisbane to enter three-day lockdown over single infection
The Australian city of Brisbane has begun a snap three-day lockdown after a cleaner in its hotel quarantine system became infected with coronavirus.
Health officials said the cleaner had the highly transmissible UK variant and they were afraid it could spread.
Brisbane has seen very few cases of the virus beyond quarantined travellers since Australia’s first wave last year.
It is the first known instance of this variant entering the Australian community outside of hotel quarantine.
The lockdown is for five populous council areas in Queensland’s state capital.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the measure on Friday morning local time, about 16 hours after the woman tested positive.
Ms Palaszczuk said the lockdown aimed to halt the virus as rapidly as possible, adding: “Doing three days now could avoid doing 30 days in the future.”
“I think everybody in Queensland… knows what we are seeing in the UK and other places around the world is high rates of infection from this particular strain,” she said.
“And we do not want to see that happening here in our great state.”
Australia has reported 28,500 coronavirus infections and 909 deaths since the pandemic began. By contrast, the US, which is the hardest-hit country, has recorded more than 21 million infections while nearly 362,000 people have died of the disease.The lockdown will begin at 18:00 on Friday (08:00 GMT) in the Brisbane city, Logan and the Ipswich, Moreton and Redlands local government areas.
Residents will only be allowed to leave home for certain reasons, such as buying essential items and seeking medical care.
For the first time, residents in those areas will also be required to wear masks outside of their homes.
Australia has faced sporadic outbreaks over the past year, with the most severe one in Melbourne triggering a lockdown for almost four months.
A pre-Christmas outbreak in Sydney caused fresh alarm, but aggressive testing and contact-tracing has kept infection numbers low. The city recorded four local cases on Friday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has pledged to start mass vaccinations in February instead of March as was planned.
Lockdown interrupts ‘near normal’ life in Brisbane
Simon Atkinson, BBC News in Brisbane
At 8:00 today I popped to the local supermarket for some bread, milk – and because it’s summer here – a mango. I was pretty much the only customer.
When I went past the same shop a couple of hours later it was a different story – 50 people standing in the drizzle – queuing to get inside as others emerged with bulging shopping bags. “Heaps busier than Christmas,” a cheery trolley attendant told me. “It’s off the scale”.
Despite the “don’t panic” messages from authorities, pictures on social media show it’s a pattern being repeated across the city.
While shutdowns are common around the world, the tough and sudden stay-at-home order for Brisbane has caught people on the hop here after months of near normality.
But while such a rapid, hard lockdown off the back of just a single case of Covid-19 will seem crazy in some parts of the world, I’ve not come across too many people complaining.
And I don’t think that’s just because Aussies love to follow a rule. This is the first time the UK variant of the virus has been detected in the community in Australia.
And nobody here wants Brisbane to go through what Melbourne suffered last year. Even if it means going without mangoes.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55582836
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