Health authorities have confirmed the ACT’s two active COVID-19 cases have the South African strain of the virus — Canberra’s first recorded cases of the more contagious variant.

Key points:Canberra has recorded its first cases of the South African strain of COVID-19Both cases tested positive to the virus while in hotel quarantine on ThursdayThe cases are returned travellers who arrived on a repatriation flight from Singapore on Monday with 144 other passengers

The two travellers arrived on a repatriation flight from Singapore on Monday.

They recorded weak positive test results while in quarantine but were on Thursday confirmed as active cases.

ACT Health today confirmed the unrelated cases — a man aged in his 40s and another man aged under 20 — had the South African variant.

“The whole genome sequencing from the two returned travellers in hotel quarantine who returned a positive COVID-19 test shows that both travellers have been infected with the South African COVID-19 variant of concern (also known as B.1.351). Available genome sequencing results also show that the strains from the two cases are identical,” an ACT Health spokesperson said.

“Management of a case with a COVID-19 variant of concern is the same as a case without the variant strain, however, there are stricter criteria for the release of a case from isolation with a variant of concern.

“The ACT has strong systems in place for hotel quarantine that are designed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. As part of this, all staff working in hotel quarantine follow stringent PPE and infection control processes.”

None of the other 144 passengers on board the repatriation flight have so far tested positive to COVID-19 and ACT Health says both men are doing well.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 1 minute 6 seconds1m 6s Chief Medical Officer says South African variant is becoming ‘normal strain’ of coronavirusCatch up on the main COVID-19 news from March 6 with our blog.What do we know about the South African strain?

Health authorities believe the South African variant of the virus is more contagious than the most common strain of COVID-19.

Both the UK and South African strains carry mutations to their spike protein that enable them to bind more tightly to human cells, potentially increasing their ability to spread.

Australia’s first case of the South African variant was recorded in hotel quarantine late last year.

The new strain also carries two other mutations that could impact the effectiveness of certain vaccines.

However, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has warned against people coming to snap conclusions about how the variant could impact the vaccine rollout.

Read more about coronavirus:Investigation into infection underway

ACT health authorities believe the two men acquired the virus while in transit to Australia and they had not come into contact with anyone who was unwell in the days before they travelled.

The Singapore Airlines flight arrived in Canberra on Monday.(

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An investigation is underway to determine how the men became infected, in collaboration with NSW Health and Singapore Airlines.

The infected pair travelled with 144 others from Singapore who will all undergo further testing.

Both men tested negative to the virus before boarding.

There are currently 195 people in quarantine in Canberra.

Read more about COVID-19 vaccines:

More than 1,500 Canberrans have been vaccinated as part of Phase 1A of the ACT’s vaccination rollout.

The Health Minister said the territory’s first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines was scheduled to arrive within days, meaning the program would be fast-tracked.

It is likely people will start receiving the AstraZeneca doses from next week.

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