The NSW health department is in a race against time to track down the source of three mystery coronavirus cases, with the hopes of an open border with Queensland before November hanging in the balance.
The positive swabs were returned on Tuesday night after NSW’s 8pm reporting deadline and will be included in official figures on Thursday.
The cases were discovered in men and women aged in their 50s in the Campbelltown, Parramatta and Wollondilly local government areas, and are not believed to be linked.
After recording a 12-day streak without a locally acquired case, contact tracers have been left scratching their heads while separated families with loved ones in Queensland are nervous.
If contact tracers cannot identify the source of the infections within 24 hours, the Queensland border – which has been shut since August 8 – will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
Under Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, the only way the border will reopen is if NSW can last 28 days in a row without recording a locally acquired virus infection.
But that goal might never be attainable, according to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
“Until the end of the pandemic, it’s highly unlikely that NSW will ever get to 28 days of no community transmission because that is not how a pandemic works,” she said.
Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles said on Wednesday it was too soon to declare if the 28-day timer would be reset.
“It’s too early to say that – there’s certainly enough reason to be concerned,” Mr Miles said.
Compared to Melbourne, Australia’s coronavirus hotspot, Sydney’s three mystery cases might not seem like a big deal. But it is.
COVID-19 cases without a known source, known as ‘mystery cases’, are of particular concern because when contact tracers are unable to track down and isolate those infected, the virus has more opportunity to spread.
It also points to the presence of community transmission, where the virus is circulating in the community and infecting people without detection.
The fact that NSW reported three mystery cases in a single day, while Victoria recorded 12 over the past 14 days to Wednesday is a worry.
It only took four mystery cases for NZ to send Auckland back into lockdown for 15 days.