The coronavirus cluster on Sydney’s North Beaches grew to 28 people on Friday, including one person who traveled to Queensland before testing positive.
New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian urged all of Sydney to “be on high alert” and said it would be “crazy” to take public transport, go shopping or go to a place of worship without a mask.
Genome sequencing has revealed that the outbreak was an international strain of American origin, which could be related to a woman who returned to Australia on December 1 and is still in hotel quarantine.
On Friday morning, Berejiklian said 10 other people had tested positive on the northern beaches since 8 p.m. Thursday, and one person in Queensland who was linked to the group.
The prime minister said that “a couple of people” from other parts of Sydney had attended two locations on the northern beaches that had been the main spreading events of the outbreak, meaning it could spread throughout the city.
“They went back to their homes in other suburbs,” he said. “There is potential for planting outside of Avalon and the northern beaches.”
Later on Friday, authorities announced that 21 beaches in the north of the city would be closed.
The state’s health director, Dr. Kerry Chant, said the northern beaches outbreak was an international strain of American origin.
He said early results showed it was “similar” to that found in a traveler who returned and entered hotel quarantine on December 1 and was still receiving treatment.
Chant said the woman was “clearly contagious while on the plane.”
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the woman tested positive while in hotel quarantine and was transferred to a health hotel, where she remained. He said he wasn’t sure that she was the initial source of the infection.
“Work continues to establish what that person’s connection would have been,” he said. “There may have been intermissions.”
Chant said the uncertainty about the source of the cluster was worrisome.
“My anxiety is that we have not found the direct transmission route and we cannot be sure that we have blocked the transmission line,” he said.
Hazzard and Berejiklian hinted that Sydney residents had let their guard down during the weeks without community transmission, although no one linked to the outbreak has been shown to have violated any of the guidelines.
Hazzard said he had seen a “creeping complacency” among Sydney residents and an “avalanche” of complacency.
Berejiklian told reporters: “Everyone in Sydney should be on high alert… No one should get on public transport without a mask, no one should go to a grocery store or a place of worship without a mask. It would be crazy if people did these activities without a mask. “
Neither Berejiklian, Hazzard nor Chant wore a mask at the press conference, although the advisers did.
Hazzard, who lives on the northern beaches, said he underwent a Covid test on Thursday and had isolated himself while waiting for the result, which was negative. It is exempt from the request that residents stay home as “essential worker.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the woman who tested positive in Queensland had returned to New South Wales.
State health director Jeannette Young said the woman in her 50s flew to Brisbane airport on a Virgin flight on December 16 and wore a mask on the flight. She said she was “very concerned” about a lunch the woman had at the Glen Hotel on Eight Mile Plains.
He also traveled to the Sunshine Coast, but Young said that, aside from a hotel receptionist, “otherwise I didn’t have any extensive contacts there.”
“We are confident that we will find anyone who has come into contact with that person,” he said.
Queensland announced that anyone arriving in the state starting Saturday after being in the North Beaches local government area since December 11 must go into hotel quarantine for 14 days. People who are already in Queensland and who have been to the North Beaches since December 11 must self-isolate at home or in their accommodation.
Police said they would start randomly stopping cars and meeting with all flights arriving in Queensland to check if people had come from the northern beaches.
A plane that arrived in north Queensland on Friday had 12 people who had been to the north beaches, police said.
Victoria and Western Australia also said arrivals from northern beaches would have to be hotel quarantined and advised all their residents to avoid traveling anywhere in New South Wales.
In New South Wales, Berejiklian also announced that the state would change its guidelines on the quarantine of international aircrews in Sydney. Victoria quickly followed suit.
Starting Tuesday, the entire aircrew will be quarantined at just two designated hotels, “instead of 25 or 26,” Berejiklian said.
She said the airline crew had violated the guidelines previously.
“There was an airline crew from a few weeks ago that broke their isolation and went to the places,” he said.
“The problem is not the guidelines we have, unfortunately there are some occasions where people have violated the guidelines or, in fact, have chosen not to isolate themselves when they should have.
“As of Tuesday, there will be no possibility of disobedience.”
New South Wales police later reported that 13 crew members had been fined for failing to comply with quarantine requirements after arriving on a flight from South America on December 5.
Chant clarified that there have been no further cases associated with a van driver working at the Sydney airport transporting crews to and from the quarantined hotel.
The southwest Sydney man tested positive on Wednesday, becoming the first locally acquired case in the state since Dec. 3.
Chant said the man’s close contacts had tested negative and were still in self-isolation. He said genomic sequencing showed that his strain was also “most likely an American strain,” which was “consistent with the hypothesis” that he contracted the virus from the international flight crew.
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