“At this point, I’d say, we’re alert but not alarmed. We are right on top of this one. We are still in the opening quarter of the Holiday Inn outbreak, I’m afraid … we’ve been here before, we were here on the Grand Hyatt only a week ago, we’ve been here with Black Rock. We’ve been here in 2020.
“We have an experienced, capable team that’s driving hard at this, but this is a bit different. It’s a UK variant, we don’t yet know everything about it.”
Mr Weimar said the new positive case at the Holiday Inn, the 11th case so far, would likely have been isolating since the start of the week.
“My understanding is that she would have been isolating since Monday, possibly Tuesday,” he said. “The interview is under way, so let us do the work, as we’ve said, a number of times, all the staff in the hotel quarantine programme are tested every single day.”
Mr Weimar said the fresh positive case was new and that he had been made aware of the case for only 30 minutes before the press conference and that health authorities were interviewing the woman.
Mr Weimar said authorities had expanded the Sunbury Square Shopping Centre exposure site to include the entire facility. Previously only specific shops and food outlets at the centre were identified as exposure sites.
“We have now decided out of an abundance of caution to expand the exposure site to the wider Sunbury shopping centre, but at ‘tier two’,” Mr Weimar said.
“So we’re not regarding it as a ‘tier one’ shopping centre we think the risk is reasonably low.”
Mr Weimar congratulated Victorians for completing about 22,500 tests in the past 24 hours.
“We’re incredibly grateful to the Victorian community and to Melburnians,” Mr Weimar said.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said both cases were already in quarantine and there was “no added risk to the community”.
“I have spoken on several occasions in the last couple of days with my Victorian counterparts and I’m very confident that they are doing what they need to do in terms of identifying exposure sites and putting that information out to the community,” he said on Thursday afternoon.
Professor Kelly said he would investigate reports of rule breaches in the Victorian hotel quarantine system but noted the program had resulted in only a few viral incursions into the community around the country.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton on Wednesday said the hotel outbreak was now believed to have started after a man used a nebuliser for asthma in his room. That man is fighting for life with COVID-19 in hospital.
AMA Victoria president Julian Rait said on Wednesday that it “beggars belief” that a nebuliser was allowed to be used in hotel quarantine.
“The medical community knows full well these particular devices are really COVID spreaders,” Professor Rait said in an interview Nine’s Today Show. “There are a number of examples, both in Australia and overseas, where we think they’ve contributed to outbreaks.”
New border controls
The two new cases on Thursday came as Queensland introduced new border controls for anyone travelling from Victoria. From 1am on Saturday, Victorians will again need to fill out border declaration passes when they enter Queensland, but the border will remain open. Anyone who has visited an exposure site during the times listed by the health department will not be allowed to enter Queensland.
WA has also extended its current border restrictions for another seven days. Anyone entering WA from Victoria will need to be tested and enter 14 days quarantine.
South Australia shut its border to Greater Melbourne on Thursday night. Exemptions are available for essential travellers, SA residents, people escaping domestic violence and those who are relocating.
SA Chief Health Officer Nicole Spurrier said on Thursday it was an “evolving situation” and it was too soon to say how long the border would be closed, but it may not be long.
The two cases discovered on Wednesday involved a worker and a former guest at the Holiday Inn, who tested positive after completing two weeks of quarantine.
The Holiday Inn was emptied and 48 guests were transferred to the Pullman Hotel in Melbourne’s CBD on Wednesday morning.
Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said one of the two cases confirmed on Wednesday afternoon involved a person living in the Coburg, Pascoe Vale and Reservoir catchment area, where fragments of the virus had been detected in wastewater.
“That does put into context that unexpected wastewater detection that the Minister of Health spoke of yesterday,” she said. The case was a person who had tested positive after having left hotel quarantine.
Wastewater warnings remain in place for Roxburgh Park, Westmeadows, Glenroy, Reservoir and Coburg, where the fragments were found earlier this week. Residents with symptoms in those areas are being urged to get tested immediately.
Ms Allan said there was no clear timeline yet for when the Holiday Inn would reopen after “terminal cleaning”.
‘We cannot wait any longer’: AMA slams poor PPE standards
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid called out the formal Infection Control Expert Group advising the federal government on Wednesday, claiming it had “failed in its duties to date” to incorporate aerosol transmission into formal guidelines for quarantine hotels.
“Last September, [Health] Minister [Greg] Hunt committed to reviewing guidelines for protecting healthcare workers from COVID-19, announcing a partnership between ICEG and the National COVID-19 Evidence Taskforce, specifically focussing on the question of airborne spread,” he said.
“It’s been almost six months and Infection Prevention and Control Panel is yet to produce the goods. We cannot wait any longer for ICEG to act.”
Dr Khorshid called on ministers via the National Cabinet to push hard for better airflow in quarantine hotels as well as N95 masks and eye protection for all workers in hotel quarantine.
Doctor questions the nebuliser theory
At least one expert has expressed scepticism over the theory detailed by Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday that a nebuliser was to blame for the Holiday Inn outbreak spread.
Professor Bruce Thompson, dean of health sciences at Swinburne University and a respiratory expert, said the particles emitted by a nebuliser were “quite large”.
“Therefore it’s heavy and so it will tend to [settle] very, very quickly within the room,” he told 3AW.
“Even if a little bit actually got into the air-conditioning system and travelled down the corridor … How viable is that virus? And if you only get one little particle, it’s not going to do a whole lot.
“So it is a very different construct inhaling a little bit of particles as opposed to giving someone a whopping big kiss with virus – you’re going to get it then but in this case, probably highly unlikely.”
With Melissa Cunningham
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Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.
David Estcourt is a court and general news reporter at The Age.
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