The Covid-19 variant in Victoria’s outbreak is seemingly being transmitted between people during “fleeting”, casual and limited contact, leaving health authorities concerned that the virus is spreading differently than during previous outbreaks.
Senior government ministers and health officials met on Tuesday night to discuss a potential extension of the state’s seven-day lockdown into the weekend.
New South Wales health authorities at the same time revealed a positive Melbourne case visited Jervis Bay, Hyams Beach, Vincentia and Goulburn while potentially infectious on 23 en 24 Mei.
“This is stranger-to-stranger transmission” being experienced in Melbourne, the Victorian Covid-19 testing commander, Jeroen Weimar, said earlier on Tuesday, met 54 active cases now in the state including three new cases identified overnight.
“We have at least four incidents where people unknown to each other before have transmitted to each other. What we’re seeing now is people are brushing past each other in a small shop, they are going to a display home, they are looking at phones in a Telstra shop, and this relatively speaking fleeting contact [is enough to spread the virus].
“That is very different from what we have seen before. This is the biggest outbreak we’ve seen in Australia this year. It is certainly the fastest-moving outbreak we’ve seen anywhere in Australia for a long time. I’m not taking this lightly.”
Every case has been genomically linked to the original case, a man who caught the virus on his final day in hotel quarantine in South Australia on 4 May before returning to his home in Wollert, Victoria, the same day.
When someone tests positive a sample of the virus is sent to a laboratory where staff identify the code of the virus from that person. This code is compared with the code from other cases as they are identified. Samples with the same code are all linked as part of the same genomic cluster.
Every exposure site the Wollert man had visited had been confirmed and checked repeatedly, Weimar said, including his workplace, with contacts of concern tested and isolating. But while all of the cases had been linked genomically, health workers had not been able to determine how the virus spread from the man to Whittlesea, where there are 28 positive cases, and Port Melbourne, where there are 23 positive cases.
“We are absolutely clear that there is a missing link between this individual and the subsequent outbreak that we have seen and Whittlesea and Port Melbourne,”Het Weimar gesê.
He said he was concerned individuals who had only fleeting contact with the Wollert man may have caught the virus, even if they had not been to one of the exposure sites.
Meer as 300 potential exposure sites have been identified.
“We are now keen to start to drain the swamp to see what else is out there,”Het Weimar gesê. “Is there anybody else out there we haven’t caught? Is there anybody else not caught by exposure sites?”
After a worker at the BlueCross Sunshine aged care facility was confirmed to have tested positive on Monday, all other staff and residents at the home had been tested and had returned negative results, said Victoria’s health minister, Martin Foley. He also said there had been no further positive tests from the Arcare aged care facility at Maidstone, where a staff member and a resident had tested positive.
But the aged care cases raised questions on Monday about why all aged care staff and residents had not yet been vaccinated and why the federal government had been allowing staff to work across multiple sites until the outbreak. The federal minister for aged care, Richard Colbeck, revealed in health estimates on Tuesday morning that he could not say how many aged care workers had been vaccinated because the government had only recently begun collating that data.
The federal government is responsible for private aged care and the vaccination of those residents and workers. Foley said on Tuesday that the Victorian government would step in to make sure all workers and residents in aged care, and people with a disability, were vaccinated more swiftly as part of a blitz.
From Wednesday 2 June to Sunday 6 Junie, workers in private aged care facilities and the residential disability sector will be given priority access at walk-in vaccination hubs between 9am and 4pm when they present evidence of their employment.
While the commonwealth will continue to be responsible for in-reach in disability residential settings, Victoria will also work with providers to support access to state-run vaccination sites to increase the current low level of vaccinations.
“We will keep doing all we can to ensure we are making it as easy and as fast as possible for healthcare and aged care workers in the public or private sector to get vaccinated as quickly as they can,” Foley said.
“My understanding is the commonwealth have, through private contractors, committed to ramping up their in-reach services into those disability services. I understand that doesn’t cover staff, hence our announcement today that we want to prioritise those staff in our next five-day blitz in this area.”
NSW Gesondheid on Tuesday night said a positive case visited venues in Jervis Bay, Hyams Beach, Vincentia and Goulburn while potentially infectious. They drove back to Melbourne on 24 May and developed symptoms on 25 Mei. They were tested on 31 Mei.
Intussen, a man has tested positive while in hotel quarantine in Perth, with authorities urgently investigating how he was infected.
The WA health department believes the virus was transmitted between two guests staying in neighbouring rooms at the Pan Pacific hotel. Genome sequencing data confirmed they shared the same sequence of the virus.
The state’s chief health officer, Dr Andrew Robertson, said a man flew into Perth from Colombia via the US on 21 May and tested positive on 23 Mei. The guest next door had arrived in Perth on 16 May and tested positive on his day 13 test.
The deputy chief health officer, Dr Robyn Lawrence, said the two guests were staying in rooms at the end of a corridor. She said recent cases of transmission in hotels elsewhere in Australia had also occurred between people staying at the end of corridors.
Lawrence said it was safe for other guests to leave the quarantine hotel because they were deemed far enough away from the rooms to not be at risk.
“They’re being followed up daily, with public health calling them every day to make sure they are not developing any symptoms," sy het gese.