Two new cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in Sydney’s northern beaches, on the same day a southwest Sydney man who drives international air crew to and from Sydney airport was confirmed as a case.
The three locally acquired cases end NSW’s 12-day streak with no local coronavirus transmission.
Health authorities do not yet know the source of the two northern beaches cases, a woman in her 60s and a man in his 70s who are close contacts of each other.
The cases were confirmed on Wednesday afternoon.
NSW is undertaking contact tracing and urgent genome sequencing, with results expected in the next 24 to 48 hours.
NSW Health says no links have been identified to other known cases at this stage.
Authorities are warning anyone in the northern beaches area should monitor for even the mildest of symptoms and come forward for testing immediately if they appear.
The man and woman visited several venues while infectious.
People who attended the following venues at specific times are considered close contacts and must be tested and isolate for two weeks, even if they receive a negative result: Palm Beach female change rooms, Coast Palm Beach Cafe, and Avalon Bowlo on December 13, and Sneaky Grind Cafe at Avalon Bach on December 14.
Alerts have also been issued for Avalon Beach Woolworths and Oliver’s Pie at Avalon.
The other new case is a 45-year-old southwest Sydney man, who drives vans ferrying international air crew. The man was first symptomatic on Saturday but did not get tested until Tuesday afternoon.
He was confirmed virus-positive on Wednesday morning.
“(This) highlights what I was talking about last week when I said that the NSW government’s focus, as the virus seemed to be contained in terms of community transmission, our most exposed areas (were) principally around our borders,” Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters.
We may be an island, but we are not totally isolated from the pandemic that is raging across the world.”
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the man worked only with air crew members and was not involved in regular taxi services for the public. He wore a mask while working.
Earlier NSW health issued an alert for a children’s football clinic after confirmation of another coronavirus case in the Sydney community on Wednesday.
A van driver for air crews was diagnosed with the virus on Wednesday morning, ending NSW’s 12-day streak without a locally acquired case.
The 45-year-old man was first symptomatic on Saturday but did not get tested until Tuesday afternoon.
The other three members of his household have tested negative to COVID-19 but will self-isolate for 14 days.
A health alert has also been issued for a children’s football training session conducted by Forest Rangers FC in Peakhurst on the afternoon of December 11.
All adults in attendance at that time are casual COVID-19 contacts and should monitor for respiratory symptoms, seek testing and isolate until they get a negative result. Children should also get tested if they develop symptoms.
Mr Hazzard said at least 2000 international air crew members were touching down in Sydney each week, with turnarounds of up to 72 hours before flying out again.
While they did not have total liberty, air crew had more freedom of movement than returned travellers in hotel quarantine, who cannot leave their rooms.
Mr Hazzard said that if national cabinet did not establish a nationwide regime for arriving air crew, NSW may implement its own changes.
That would entail placing air crew in full hotel quarantine, but only until their next flight out of the country.
“Our inclination is to say to international air crews and airlines … crews coming in to NSW will be most likely to be required to quarantine in the same way as other international visitors,” Mr Hazzard said.
“We need to be cognisant of the need to work with the airlines to make sure their air crew are able to come in to NSW and Australia, but also to make sure they do it in a safe way.”
The COVID-positive case’s employer, Sydney Ground Transport in inner Sydney’s Alexandria, has ceased operations while contact tracing is underway. Its staff will also be tested for COVID-19.
One COVID-19 patient in NSW is currently in intensive care.
Meanwhile, Victoria had no cases in hotel quarantine on Wednesday. It has seven active virus infections, none in the community.
Vaccine rollout plan revealed
Wednesday’s surprise infection came as it was revealed that older Australians and people with chronic illnesses will be among the first to receive coronavirus vaccinations in 2021.
Frontline health and aged care workers will also be at the head of the queue.
Australian Defence Force members, police officers and international airline workers could also be given priority during the national rollout.
But other young adults will have to wait, and children will be last in line.
Acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly said the aim for 2021 was to get everyone in Australia who wanted a jab vaccinated.
“There will be a queue,” Professor Kelly said in Canberra on Wednesday.
He explained the rollout would be unusual compared to previous national immunisation strategies.
“We usually start with having enough to roll vaccination out to anyone who needs it,” Professor Kelly said.
“This is a bit unusual because of the nature of how this has developed. We will have a supply by March and will start the process then.
“After that, we will get more supply and be able to roll out more broadly.”
Professor Kelly said the vaccine rollout was on track.
“When you think about how extraordinary it is, it’s only 11 months ago that we had the first understanding of the genetic sequence of this virus,” he said.
“We already have the Pfizer vaccine out in the field being used in populations in those three countries (Britain, the US and Canada), as well as now the likelihood that Moderna and other M-RNA vaccine may well get an emergency use authorisation in the coming days.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison aims to start the COVID vaccination rollout by March.
But he said the national strategy, including which cohorts would get the jab first, was yet to be finalised.
Mr Morrison said health workers and others in “critical occupations” would be at the front of the queue, as seen in Britain and the US.
“But the details of that plan are still being worked out,” he said.
Mr Morrison also sought to assure Australians stranded overseas this Christmas that he is determined to bring them home.
There are now more than 30,000 Australians seeking to return from overseas.
The Prime Minister sent a message to Australians overseas during an interview on the Seven Network.
“We are looking to get you home as soon as we possible and that is what the record shows. We know you want to come home and you have every right to come home,” he said.
“You are Australian and you are my first priority in terms of people coming back into the country.”
Mr Morrison hosed down questions about allowing international visitors back into Australia in 2021, playing down the prospect of widespread international travel resuming before July.
“We are not lifting international borders at present and we have no immediate plans to do that,” he said.
An exception has been made for New Zealand, with almost 10,000 Kiwis allowed into the country since a one-way travel link was restored.