News Victoria plans tighter testing regime for quarantine workers

Victoria plans tighter testing regime for quarantine workers

victoria hotel quarantine virus
The Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport. Photo: Holiday Inn Photo: Holiday Inn
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Victorian authorities are looking to make COVID-19 testing compulsory for hotel quarantine workers on their days off, after a second worker contracted the virus in less than a week.

The woman, aged in her early 50s, tested positive on Sunday after she completed a shift at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport.

She had previously tested negative after shifts on Wednesday and Thursday, then had two days off.

Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville, responsible for the state’s quarantine program, said the woman did not appear to have breached any infection control protocols.

She said the woman worked as an authorised officer, issuing detention notices for returned international travellers in hotel quarantine.

“It appears that there’s no breach,” Ms Neville said, based on security footage.

Genomic testing is underway to determine which strain of the virus the woman has contracted.

Victorian COVID-19 Testing Commander Jeroen Weimar said authorities were assuming the “worst-case scenario”, that the woman contracted a complex strain while working in the program.

“I’m pleased that we caught this case so quickly and we can put in our response to make sure we run it to ground,” he said.

Ms Neville says a family of three at the hotel tested positive for COVID-19 around the time the woman is suspected to have contracted the virus.

At this stage, it’s not clear that she’s had a dealing with these three,” she said, noting the family had been moved to a health hotel upon testing positive.

About 80 hotel quarantine staff, 12 Australian Defence Force members and nine police officers who worked with the woman have been tested and will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Another 17 people, up from 15 earlier on Monday, have been identified as social and household primary close contacts. They are also isolating and being tested.

The woman has been working with contact tracers, who have already identified three potential exposure sites in Melbourne’s west.

The case comes after a hotel quarantine worker at Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt tested positive for the infectious UK strain of the virus on February 3.

Some 1266 of the 26-year-old man’s close and secondary contacts are self-isolating, with more than 80 per cent returning a negative test result so far.

A case of guest-to-guest transmission at the Park Royal hotel at Melbourne Airport was also picked up last week.

Ms Neville noted a number of adjustments have been made to the program since then, and workers are being asked to get tested on their days off.

“The intention will be to make it mandatory,” she said, noting contractual issues need to be worked out.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton is among the scores of Victorians self-isolating at home as they await test results.

Tasmania has declared 12 NSW sites and additional Victoria venues high risk after new coronavirus cases in both mainland states.

A returned traveller in NSW recently tested positive after completing their two-week quarantine period.

Under Tasmanian guidelines, travel from high-risk areas is banned without the special permission.

The island state dropped its remaining border restrictions with Western Australia at 6pm on Monday, meaning people from Perth and the Peel region no longer have to quarantine.

NSW Health is investigating if a new coronavirus case reported on Monday is another leak from hotel quarantine.

wollongong virus positive
Testing centres in Wollongong are busy after an overseas traveller tested positive.

On Monday afternoon, authorities announced “an extensive investigation” was underway into the source of the new case, a returned overseas traveller who tested positive to the virus two days after being released from quarantine at the Sofitel Wentworth in Sydney.

The person, from the Wollongong area, returned to Australia from South America on January 19. They went into quarantine at the Sofitel and returned two negative tests during that fortnight.

Thousands of Wollongong residents turned out for testing on Monday after the case emerged, forming long queues outside testing stations. It came as NSW Health said it considered the latest case to have been acquired overseas, and stretched its record of days without local infections to 22.

But just hours later, NSW Health said it was “undertaking an extensive investigation into the source of a new COVID19 case, including the possibility of transmission within a hotel quarantine facility”.

“Comprehensive testing is underway to assist NSW Health understand the timing and nature of the case’s infection, including whether their infection is a known variant of concern,” it said.

“Several returned overseas travellers in the same quarantine hotel returned positive COVID-19 results while the case reported today [Monday] was undertaking quarantine.

“NSW Health is investigating any potential links between these cases and today’s case.”

Overseas travellers who were on the same floor at the Sofitel during the same time are being contacted and told to get tested as part of the state’s push to also test returnees on day 16 after their arrival in Australia.

NSW Health said the infected person had no virus symptoms but agreed to a day 16 test. That returned the positive result.

“The person was contacted, interviewed by NSW Health,
isolated, and re-tested, with those results re-confirming a positive detection on Sunday,” the statement read.

Ten close contacts of the Wollongong case have been identified and directed to self-isolate. Seven of those have already returned negative tests.

The person visited several venues in the Illawarra and surrounding areas, as well as a cafe in Brighton Le Sands in south-eastern Sydney, before they were notified of the positive result from their day-16 test.

  • See an up-to-date list of NSW venues of concern here
  • Find the latest Victorian exposure sites here

-with AAP