An airport transport driver has become NSW’s first case of community transmitted COVID-19 in almost two weeks, with the state government announcing further plans to crack down on leakages of the virus through international borders.
State Health Minister Brad Hazzard announced the “unfortunate situation” on Wednesday morning, revealing a 45-year-old transport drive had tested positive.
“This gentleman drives vans, carrying international and other aircrew back and forth to the airport,” Mr Hazzard said.
Further genomic testing results are due within 48 hours, but initial results indicate the virus came from crew on an international plane that flew into NSW.
“We have a plausible hypothesis that this transmission may have originated from contact with international flight crew,” chief health officer Kerry Chant said.
“We need to do more work in this area, and we will be engaging the [airline] industry very shortly with how we can strengthen.”
The man is a driver for a transport company, Sydney Ground Transport, and ferries people to and from the airport. The company has temporarily halted operations while the case is investigated.
The infected worker is not thought to have driven any public vehicles such as taxis. Dr Chant said he had worn a mask while working.
He first noticed symptoms on Saturday, and was tested on Tuesday, Dr Chant said. Three of his household contacts have all tested negative for COVID.
Dr Chant said NSW Health was quickly tracing the man’s recent contacts and movements, including his attendance at a children’s soccer game last Friday.
Adults who attended the Forest Rangers FC, Little Rangers session at Gannons Part in Peakhurst between 4.30pm and 5.30pm on December 11 are considered casual contacts, and are urged to get tested immediately.
NSW had recorded no new cases up until 8pm Tuesday. The latest positive case was recorded at 7am Wednesday, and will officially be included in Thursday’s numbers.
NSW recorded no new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night.
Seven cases were reported in overseas travellers. This brings the total number of cases in NSW since the start of the pandemic to 4,468. pic.twitter.com/WuHXrLZUUI
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) December 16, 2020
Mr Hazzard said NSW would “have to look more extensively at some of these issues” around airports and quarantine, and said the government’s “inclination” was that plane crew should have to follow stricter isolation measures when they arrive in Sydney.
Most international air crew have only a one to three-day turnaround in NSW before flying back out, and do not have to do the standard 14-day quarantine period for other international arrivals. However, Mr Hazzard said these rules might have to tighten.
“There’s a high variability in the approaches the airlines take themselves in testing and looking after their crews,” he said.
“We don’t know what they actually do in their home countries. They don’t necessarily share all of that information with us.”
When asked if NSW should do wider mandatory testing of workers connected to international arrivals, not just hotel workers, Dr Chant said NSW authorities were hesitant to do that – noting the physical and potentially psychological effects of repeated testing.
“You can imagine if you are required to do that on a regular basis, that may cause you anxiety, and also causes nosebleed and has caused some irritation,” she said.
“We have developed our saliva test, which gives us greater operational flexibility for surveillance purposes at this time.”