A security guard works a shift at a quarantine hotel.
Later that week, he grabs his bag and heads to his second job at a pizza restaurant.
Soon, four people test positive to the coronavirus.
Then 15, then 22. Contact tracers race to keep up.
By Wednesday, the number of confirmed cases reaches 23. Leaders announce they have no choice but to lock down.
We’ve seen this one before, and we need only to look at what happened in Victoria to know how it can end.
Why is it happening all over again, this time in South Australia?
Residents wake to lockdown
Before we delve into the reasons the virus has spread across Adelaide’s CBD, a reminder that strict stay-at-home orders began in South Australia on Thursday morning.
For six days, only one person in each household can leave home and only once a day. They can leave only for essential reasons, such as buying food.
Unlike during Victoria’s lockdown, leaving home for exercise is not allowed.
Late into Wednesday, South Australians rushed to complete non-essential tasks last minute, or soak up their last moments of freedom at local beaches.
Some couples even brought forward wedding plans to beat the ban on such gatherings, according to the Adelaide Advertiser.
Hundreds queued to get tested for COVID-19. Authorities were forced to turn some people away from sites at Victoria Park and Elizabeth after they reached capacity.
— Bryce Heaton (@bryceheaton9) November 18, 2020
Dozens of sites across Adelaide remain of key concern, particularly a pizza bar, where a worker tested positive, two northern suburbs schools, a hospital and a swimming centre.
People who visited those sites have been asked to quarantine and get tested.
Almost 40 other locations are listed as places confirmed cases have visited in recent days. People who were there at the same time have been asked to monitor for symptoms and get tested if they feel ill.
- See the full list of areas linked to the cluster here.
Victoria, determined to continue its run of “doughnut days” – zero coronavirus cases – will start testing arrivals from South Australia on Thursday.
Waited 332 days for this. pic.twitter.com/cCahrXliIS
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) November 18, 2020
Cleaner and security guards were infected
The cluster’s origin has been traced to a cleaner who worked at the Peppers Waymouth medi-hotel, in Adelaide’s CBD.
Health authorities have confirmed she infected two security guards, who were both asymptomatic.
The cleaner might have contracted the virus by touching a surface, or entering a room where someone had just breathed out, we might never know for sure.
All employees in quarantine hotels across the country will be tested at least once a week, it was announced on Wednesday.
That’s one hole shut.
The bigger problem, commentators say, is that front-line workers are being forced to work multiple jobs.
The problem with underpaying invaluable workers
These workers are the front line of our defence against the virus infiltrating the community – but they’re not being treated like it, according to Professor Marylouise McLaws.
She is an infectious diseases expert at the University of NSW and member of the WHO’s COVID-19 response team.
“We need to pay young Australians enough money so they don’t have to work across multiple campuses,” Professor McLaws said.
“This is front-line work. It is like working on a COVID ward.
“But we are not paying them enough – nor our nurses and our allied healthcare professionals enough – when we put them in the front line.”
One of the infected security guards also worked part-time at Woodville Pizza Bar.
One of the kitchen workers from a separate medi-hotel, The Stamford, got a pizza from the same restaurant and later became infected.
That’s the problem we need to urgently fix.
But limiting the movements of off-duty hotel workers won’t be easy.
SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said “we cannot quarantine those people when they are not at work”.
“They can participate in normal activities and whether that is participating in sport or taking on another part-time job, the level of engagement with the community in terms of how they do that is irrelevant,” he said.
Given Victoria’s second wave was made much worse by people working multiple jobs across different sites, such as aged-care facilities, some say SA health authorities should already have had better systems.
SA chief health officer: "We had a security guard at the [quarantine] hotel that worked part-time making pizza"
did we… learn nothing… from the last six months
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) November 18, 2020
ACTU boss Sally McManus said offering permanent full-time work to security guards would help solve the issue.
There is obviously 24/7 shifts available for security guards at hotel quarantine. The answer is simple really – permanent full-time work https://t.co/Qb9SuswNEu
— Sally McManus (@sallymcmanus) November 18, 2020
What makes this coronavirus strain different to others?
“This is a particularly sneaky strain of this virus,” SA Premier Steven Marshall said on Wednesday.
“Highly contagious strain. Short incubation period.”
From Thursday, the state will be locked down for six days under strict measures that Mr Marshall said were a “necessary circuit breaker” to allow a contact tracing blitz.
Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said the incubation period was so short in the strain in the city’s Parafield cluster that it was taking 24 hours or even less for a person to become infectious to others after being exposed.
Another hidden danger, she said, was that most of the cases displayed minimal symptoms, but have been able to pass the virus on to others.
The facts are constantly changing. It appears that this is a new strain that has a very short incubation period and only produces mild symptoms. The lockdown is for 6 days as this is two incubation cycles.
— Professor Adrian Esterman FACE (@profesterman) November 18, 2020
From now on, all people working in Australia’s quarantine hotels will be tested at least weekly, acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly said on Wednesday.
But Professor McLaws said hotel workers should be tested even more frequently.
She recommended rapid point-of-care test kits, which can produce test results in about 13 minutes.
“Test all staff every day before they go home,” she said.
“It has less accuracy than the gold standard (PCR nasal swabs) … but at least it’s very accurate at identifying you as negative.”