News Coronavirus Victoria records no new coronavirus cases amid probe into hotel quarantine infection
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Victoria records no new coronavirus cases amid probe into hotel quarantine infection

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Victoria has recorded no new locally acquired COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row, as investigations continue into how an Australian Open quarantine hotel worker acquired the virus.

There were also no new cases detected in hotel quarantine on Friday.

The results came from more than 23,000 tests processed, after the case saw testing sites flooded with residents during the week.

A 26-year-old Noble Park man who was working as a resident support officer at the Grand Hyatt quarantine hotel tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday.

The hotel was one of three being used to quarantine Australian Open tennis players.

The case brought Victoria’s 28-day run of zero community transmission to an end and prompted the reintroduction of several restrictions.

Masks must now be worn indoors and the number of visitors allowed in private homes has been halved to 15, while a scheduled increase in the number of workers allowed to return to the office has been shelved.

The infected resident support officer had earlier returned a negative test on his last day working at the hotel.

It followed news on Wednesday afternoon that health authorities were investigating the possible transmission of the virus between returned travellers at a different quarantine hotel.

Genomic sequencing on Friday confirmed the worker had acquired the more infectious B117 variant of the virus, known as the UK strain.

By late last night, all of the man’s 17 primary close contacts had returned negative tests. They are required to complete a 14-day quarantine period.

A further 1200 secondary contacts have also been identified including 507 tennis players, officials and support staff.

The Australian Open on Friday confirmed the entire tennis contingent has returned negative results, paving the way for lead-up matches to resume and the tournament to start on Monday.

The Department of Health has a website with a list of exposure sites visited by the positive case.

Anyone who visited the sites at the specified times, located in Brighton, Brandon Park, Clayton South, Heatherton, Keysborough, Melbourne CBD, Moorabbin, Noble Park, Springvale and West Melbourne, has to get tested and isolate for 14 days.

“I want to reinforce the message that this is not over,” Health Minister Martin Foley said.

“That this wildly infectious – particularly now we know it is this mutant new case strain – continues to be highly infectious and a real risk to all Victorians.”

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said officials wouldn’t feel comfortable the state was in “safe territory” until the end of the 14-day incubation period.

“A zero day is a great day any day,” he said.

“But in particular with this strain, first identified in the UK, having no positive results out of those exposure sites and numerous primary close contacts is very encouraging.

“There is a bit of luck, a bit of randomness involved in the fact that no cases have been identified.”

AMA says hotel airflow ‘isn’t up to the standards we expect’

Investigations are continuing into how the resident support officer acquired the virus, but authorities say they are confident it was at work at not in the community.

The worker has been called a “model” employee who followed all infection control protocols, prompting health teams to investigate the potential of aerosol spread.

Emergency Services Minster Lisa Neville, who oversees the hotel quarantine program, has said all workers would likely be fit-tested with N95 masks in light of the transmission, instead of the surgical masks currently worn during daily tasks.

Ms Neville, who is overseeing the revamped program, announced a ventilation review of all hotels within the system was underway.

“We don’t think at this stage this is about ventilation, but again we’re not leaving any stone unturned,” she told reporters on Saturday.

Ms Neville said the change was based on updated advice from infection prevention control experts, with hotel quarantine workers previously wearing just N-95 masks.

They will still don the more protective N-95 mask along with a face shield for encounters with infectious guests and when entering rooms for medical emergencies.

In addition, hotel quarantine organisers have put “buffers” between family groups and other guests from Wednesday, resulting in 140 rooms being taken out of the system.

Food delivery times are also being staggered, reducing the risk of people opening doors at the same time.

The Australian Medical Association’s Victorian head had earlier said the state government needed to seriously consider ways to improve ventilation systems in quarantine hotels to help stop cross-infection.

AMA Victoria president Julian Rait said it would be better to use hotel quarantine facilities in remote locations, rather than city hotels.

“We think that perhaps they might be more suited given that the air exchange inside many inner-city hotels just isn’t up to the standards we expect from our hospitals or indeed many other health facilities,” he said.

On Friday Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced caps on international arrivals would be lifted in most states and territories.

The capacity at the NT’s Howard Springs facility, which uses standalone former workers’ accommodation rather than hotel rooms, is set to be expanded.

The Prime Minister also spoke about the suggestion of developing another quarantine facility in Toowoomba in Queensland, saying the government would continue to assess the proposal.

Tennis fans to wear masks when stadium roofs are closed

The Victorian government has confirmed tennis fans will have to wear masks in stadiums at the Australian Open whenever the roof is closed.

In response to Wednesday’s infection, masks are again mandatory in all indoor settings, the number of visitors allowed in homes has been halved to 15 and a plan to increase workplace caps has been paused.

“In the context of the Australian Open, when the roof is closed at its venues with retractable roofs, these venues are deemed to be indoor spaces under the restrictions and mask use is required by all spectators and officials,” a government spokesperson said.

Tennis players on court will be exempt from these restrictions as they are engaged in “strenuous physical exercise”.

-with agencies