Victoria has reintroduced mandatory mask rules, reduced the cap on visitors in homes and paused an increase on the number of people allowed in offices after a hotel quarantine worker contracted COVID-19.
- Premier Daniel Andrews says authorities have to assume the man has infected others
- Anyone who has attended exposure sites in Melbourne’s south-east must isolate for 14 days
- More than 500 Australian Open players and staff have been classed as casual contacts of the worker
From 11:59pm on Wednesday, private gatherings have been limited to 15 people and masks are mandatory in indoor settings.
A plan to have up to 75 per cent of workers back in the office from Monday has been paused.
It follows the diagnosis of a 26-year-old, who had been serving as a resident support officer as part of the Australian Open quarantine program.
The Noble Park man last worked at the Grand Hyatt on January 29 and returned a negative test after the end of that shift but later developed symptoms.
Premier Daniel Andrews said authorities were “assuming the worst” and acting as though the man had the highly infectious UK strain of the virus. Genomic sequencing to identify the strain will be completed in coming days.
Mr Andrews said authorities were adding new restriction levels because “we have to assume that this person has in fact infected others”.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said testing indicated the man “probably had a high viral load”, meaning he expected his close contacts to potentially become cases.
But Mr Andrews said “there’s no need for people to panic” after the positive case, adding Victoria now knew how to get on top of outbreaks.
Victoria’s Health Department added the locally acquired case, as well as two cases in hotel quarantine, to its daily coronavirus tally on Thursday morning.
Source of infection still being determined
Mr Andrews said it was still not clear how the worker contracted the virus, given he had previously recorded negative test results while working at the quarantine hotel.
“We can’t particularly determine how it is the person became infected given that they produced negative test results,” he said.
“All of that will become clearer with a combination of CCTV footage, genomic sequencing, further testing, all of that coronavirus detective work that is already well and truly underway.”
Mr Andrews made the announcement in a late-night press conference, just hours after the infection was confirmed.
The case will be recorded as a community transmission, the day the state had celebrated reaching a milestone 28 days in a row without a locally acquired infection.
It followed news on Wednesday afternoon that health authorities were investigating the possible transmission of the virus between returned travellers at a different quarantine hotel.
List of exposure sites in Melbourne’s south-east released
Anyone who visited the following exposure sites at the specified times must be tested and isolate for 14 days:
Mr Andrews said the 26-year-old worker had attended a social function in his capacity as a volunteer firefighter.
“We have been through FRV and CFA have been contacting brigades, they have been doing deep cleaning, they in turn have been contacting their members, their staff as well as their volunteers,” he said.
“We are confident people will get the information they need as quickly as possible.”
From Thursday all of the 13 major testing sites in the south-east of Melbourne will open early at 8:00am with additional drive-through lanes added. Additional testing sites will open in Brighton and Monash University.
Victoria’s COVID-19 testing commander Jeroen Weimar said contact tracing work was occurring throughout Wednesday night.
“We are continuing to talk to him [the worker] tonight to extract as much information as possible about his movements,” he said.
Mr Weimar said contact tracers were working to get in touch with the organisations and businesses listed as exposure sites.
Mr Weimar asked Victorians to bring water and have enough fuel in their car to wait for their testing at sites, adding that the weather is forecast to be warm.
More than 500 people linked to the Australian Open classed as casual contacts
The Grand Hyatt was one of three quarantine hotels used by the Australian Open to quarantine more than 1,000 players and support staff ahead of the tournament.
Mr Andrews said there would be an impact on some of the grand slam’s players and staff.
“They will be isolating until they get a negative test.”
Tennis Australia has cancelled all matches at Melbourne Park on Thursday in the Australian Open lead-up events while players are tested.
Mr Andrews said the tennis was not the most important issue.
“I must say that is important to us but the issues are much broader and that is about public health and public safety,” he said.
Professor Sutton said he believed it would be safe for the first grand slam of the year to go ahead, as the latest people to test positive within the hotel quarantine system were diagnosed between January 15 and 22 and then moved to the health hotel.
He said it was a “precautionary but useful measure” to test the casual contacts who had stayed in the hotel.
‘We’ll absolutely get on top of it’
Professor Sutton and Mr Andrews praised the hotel quarantine worker for providing contact tracers with a detailed list of where he had been.
“We’ve identified it relatively early. We’ve got that exposure information coming in very rapidly,” he said.
“And I think people will absolutely step up to this in terms of knowing that they need to get tested and that they’ll need to isolate until they get that negative result. If everyone’s doing that, we’ll absolutely get on top of it.”
Professor Sutton said while the case meant an end to Victoria’s technical elimination of the virus, “we’ll do it again”.
“If we have to do it 10 times over, we can do it.”
Victoria’s Opposition police spokesman, David Southwick, said the latest infection raised fresh questions about Victoria’s hotel quarantine measures.
“What it’s done is unfortunately it’s left a lot of people quite panicked and confused, and quite frankly raising a whole lot of questions about this virus and how it’s happened in the first place,” he said.
“How has a hotel worker yet again tested positive, caught the virus and then taken the virus out into the community?”