A 26-year-old worker at a Melbourne quarantine hotel who returned a positive COVID-19 test yesterday is a “model employee” who followed all safety protocols, Premier Daniel Andrews says.
- Health authorities say it is likely that the 26-year-old acquired the virus at the quarantine hotel
- His positive test has prompted the re-introduction of mandatory mask rules and smaller household visitor caps
- Capacity is being boosted at testing sites amid long lines as a list of exposure sites grows
The man, from Noble Park, was serving as a resident support officer at the Grand Hyatt hotel as part of the Australian Open hotel quarantine program.
He last worked at the hotel on January 29 and returned a negative test at the end of that shift, but later developed symptoms.
The new case prompted a late-night reintroduction of the same coronavirus restrictions imposed on the state over New Year’s Eve.
It means masks are mandatory in all indoor settings and the number of visitors allowed in private homes has been halved to 15.
A scheduled increase in the number of people allowed in workplaces, due to increase to 75 per cent from Monday, has been paused.
Nine of the man’s close household contacts have returned negative tests in what Mr Andrews called a “positive sign”, and health authorities have contacted 17 people identified as close contacts of the man.
Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from February 4 with our coronavirus blog.
The infected man worked at the Grand Hyatt hotel when it was housing Australian Open players and staff.(ABC News: Peter Healy)
Mr Andrews said a review of CCTV at the hotel showed the worker had correctly followed all safety procedures.
“He’s also provided us with very detailed accounts of where he has been as well as any other information that we’ve needed,” he said.
“We’re very grateful to him and further to some questions last night we can find no problem, no breach of protocol, anything of that nature in terms of his employment.”
But he said the “working assumption” was that he caught the virus at work, rather than in the community.
Health Minister Martin Foley tells Virginia Trioli the hotel quarantine worker was ‘first class’.
Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer, Allen Cheng, confirmed the man was working on the same floor as several COVID-19 cases in the hotel, but it is not clear how he became infected.
“I think it’s probably not rocket science to say that he’s probably caught it from one of the cases,” he said.
“We are aware there were six cases at that hotel. Obviously, they were moved out to hard quarantine, to the health hotels when they were diagnosed, but obviously there is that process, where they are moved, but we don’t know of any breaches.”
Professor Cheng said there would be a new approach to testing hotel quarantine staff, where they would continue to be swabbed after their employment ended.
Genomic sequencing is being done to determine if the worker has one of the more contagious strains of the virus, but on Wednesday night Mr Andrews said health teams were “assuming the worst”.
People being turned away from testing sites
Long lines are forming at testing sites across Melbourne’s south-east after the new case was confirmed.(ABC News: Jessica Longbottom)
The Department of Health is consistently updating its website with a list of exposure sites visited by the positive case, which by Wednesday morning was at 14 venues.
Anyone who visited the sites at the specified times, located in Brighton, Brandon Park, Clayton South, Heatherton, Keysborough, Melbourne CBD, Moorabbin, Noble Park, Springvale and West Melbourne, have to get tested and isolate for 14 days.
Want more local news?
We offer tailored front pages for local audiences in each state and territory. Find out how to opt in for more Victorian news.
Mr Andrews reiterated his plea for anyone with even the mildest symptoms to be tested.
By Wednesday morning, the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre (MSAC) was already at capacity. More than a dozen other testing sites, mainly in the south-east, had wait times of more than 30 minutes.
At the Springers Leisure Centre in Keysborough, one man who spoke to the ABC from his car said he was turned away by 8:30am.
“They tell you to get tested, and then they don’t have capacity? Seriously,” he said.
Mr Andrews asked for people to be patient.
“There will be delays, and there can be no other way in many ways,” Mr Andrews said.
“We can’t have people just stampeding through these places, it’s got to be done carefully, slowly, meticulously. I don’t want a testing site to become a super spreading site so it has to be done very carefully.”
Australian Open tennis players among casual contacts
Victoria’s COVID testing commander, Jeroen Weimar, said around 520 Australian Open players and staff completed their quarantine at the Grand Hyatt, and all have been asked to get tested and isolate.
“There will be dedicated test facilities for them to ensure we get their testing results done and that we can then rule them out from the inquiry,” he said.
“They are casual contacts. We are not as concerned about them. But, again, out of an abundance of caution we want to ensure we leave no stone unturned in how we follow-up and deal with anybody who may have had contact with this individual.”
All matches in the Australian Open lead-in events that were to be held today at Melbourne Park have been postponed but organisers say they are confident the tournament will go ahead.
Read more about coronavirus:
About 80 more staff who worked at the hotel have been instructed to isolate and get tested. Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said the incident had not had any impact on staffing within the hotel quarantine system.
Shadow Police Minister David Southwick said many Victorians would be questioning whether the Government had prioritised the tennis over the health and safety of the community.
“The questions around the strength of this program is it able to stand up when we have a situation like we’re just hearing now?” he said.
Residents in Keysborough, one of the high-risk suburbs, told the ABC they thought the tennis should have been cancelled this year.
“It may as well go ahead. It’s too late [to cancel] now, the players would be so disappointed,” Pauline Ogilvy said.
“It should’ve been cancelled months ago because they know all the risks.”
States and territories introduce testing and quarantine requirements
The Northern Territory Government has declared 10 suburbs in Melbourne as COVID-19 hotspots.
Anyone arriving in the NT from Melbourne, West Melbourne, Brighton, Brandon Park, Clayton South, Heatherton, Keysborough, Moorabbin, Noble Park and Springvale will be required to go into mandatory supervised quarantine at a cost of $2,500.
Anyone who has arrived in the Northern Territory from the Victorian hotspots since January 29 is being directed to get tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate until a negative result is confirmed.
A plan for Western Australia to relax its border restrictions with Victoria from 11:59pm Thursday has been put on hold.
“Victoria was due to move to the very low-risk category from midnight tonight, but that has now been put on hold and we will assess the situation over coming days,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said.
“This means travellers from Victoria will still need to self-quarantine for 14 days and undergo a Day 11 test.
“It is possible that Victoria may need to go back to the medium-risk category. But hopefully the situation there will remain under control.”
Queensland will keep its border with Victoria open, but Health Minister Yvette D’Ath has urged anyone who has visited Greater Melbourne since January 29 to get tested for coronavirus and isolate.
Flights from Melbourne were held on the tarmac at Sydney Airport on Thursday morning as health screening was organised.
NSW Health said passengers landing in Sydney from Melbourne would be screened at the gate and temperature checks would be conducted.
Passengers will also be asked if they have been to any venues flagged by Victorian health authorities and must complete a passenger declaration.
Anyone in the ACT who has been in a potential high-risk COVID-19 exposure site in Victoria has been asked to get tested and quarantine for 14 days.
South Australia will keep its border with Victoria open, but anyone who has been in Greater Melbourne and travels to SA will be required to have a COVID-19 test on days one, five and 12.
They will also be required to self-quarantine until their first negative test result is returned.
Anyone who has been at any of the hotspots identified in Victoria is being asked to self-quarantine and contact SA Health.
SA authorities say their response is different from the hard border applied to Western Australia at the weekend because the two states have very different hotel quarantine facilities and testing regimes.
What you need to know about coronavirus: