Authorities are expecting to learn within hours whether COVID has spread to more crew on a coronavirus-struck bulk carrier anchored off the Western Australian coast.
Nine crew members from the Patricia Oldendorff have already tested positive to the deadly virus.
Two men tested positive on Thursday and were taken to a makeshift hotel quarantine arrangement in Port Hedland, along with 10 other crew members who had not yet been infected.
Seven of the positive cases were left on board as a skeleton crew of nine needed to keep the ship operational.
“Test results for the remaining crew have not yet come in,” WA Health said on Sunday.
The outcome of those tests is expected later on Monday.
Two crew have tested negative for the virus but it is thought they are likely to contract it or have already had it. Tests are also being done to confirm this.
The ship is also being deep cleaned, and a replacement crew flown in.
Some 20 Filipino nationals and the captain were on board when the ship anchored nine nautical miles off Port Hedland on September 16.
A coronavirus outbreak would be devastating to the Pilbara region, but Health Minister Roger Cook is confident the outbreak is under control.
We have the situation under firm management,” Mr Cooke told WA Today.
“All the positive cases are well and truly locked down in that facility.
“No way in the world we would allow the disease to get out.”
A temporary fence has been erected around the hotel and private security is being used in Port Hedland, as well as in Perth.
Mr Cook said the failures of Victoria’s hotel quarantine program were not a concern in Western Australia.
“All our security guards are trained in infection control. Otherwise they cannot be on site,” he said.
Western Australia has had just 676 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and nine deaths.
The state has 16 active cases.
NZ-Australia travel bubble
Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern renewed optimism on Monday about a potential travel bubble with Australia.
The idea was floated earlier in the year but the Australian government favoured a nationwide arrangement, which Ms Ardern said would “slow things down”.
Ms Ardern is adamant the trans-Tasman bubble can exist only between areas that have been deemed safe.
“Previously they wanted a whole of Australia approach and we said that would slow things down.” Ms Ardern told TVNZ.
“They’re now moving to a hotspot regime where certain parts [of Australia] won’t be able to be part of free movement between Australia and across the Tasman.
“We’re working through the differences that would make for New Zealand and the arrangements we would need to ensure that if we’re opening up to one state that border is contained to ensure it’s safe for New Zealanders.”
Cases numbers fall in eastern states
Testing numbers have also fallen, prompting authorities to encourage anyone with any symptoms to come forward for a test.
NSW reported no fresh COVID infections in the community or in returned travellers in hotel quarantine on Monday for the second consecutive day.
The result came from 6353 tests in the 24 hours to 8pm Sunday, well down on 12,333 tests in the previous 24 hours.
Queensland also had no new cases on Monday, leaving just eight active infections statewide.
However, testing numbers were low, with Monday’s figures coming from just 1800 tests.
Victoria back in single digits
Victoria recorded just five new cases of coronavirus on Monday – the first time since June 12 it has had fewer than 10 daily infections.
The single-digit tally brought Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average to 20.3, while it remains at 0.6 for the rest of the state.
Testing numbers also dropped in Victoria, with Monday’s tally coming from only 6807 tests.
Premier Daniel Andrews said that was a “robust” number, despite being well short of peaks of about 20,000. Mr Andrews suggested that if not enough people came forward for testing, it could delay Melbourne’s path out of lockdown.
“It is not case numbers that will hold us back from taking safe and steady steps toward the COVID-normal to continue opening up,” he said.
“What could be a challenge for us is if we don’t see people coming forward and getting tested and if we start to have doubts about whether we’ve got the most complete picture.”
Sadly, Victoria’s coronavirus death toll has crept closer to 800, with three more deaths confirmed on Monday. They took the Victorian toll to 787 and the national toll to 875.