Three more people have tested positive to the coronavirus in Victoria.
Two are spouses of workers infected through the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel outbreak, and were already in isolation when their positive test came back.
The third – which emerged late on Thursday afternoon – is an assistant manager at the hotel. She has been in isolation this week.
That brings the hotel outbreak to 11 infections – the original family of three who were at the hotel for mandatory quarantine, four staff members, two former travellers who had completed their quarantine and the two spouses.
One member of the original family is in intensive care in a Victorian hospital.
Victorian testing commander Jeroen Weimar said genomic testing on the first six cases in the outbreak had confirmed all had the virulent British strain of the virus.
Health authorities are still working through exposure sites for the most recent infections, and have boosted testing across Melbourne.
“I encourage people to keep coming forward. We are still at an early stage of this Holiday Inn outbreak,” he said.
“We are still trying to get a sense of how far transmission has already occurred and we need to be sure we keep running faster than the virus to ensure we run it to ground.”
Mr Weimar said authorities were reassured that, even though new cases were emerging in the cluster, all were so far in primary close contacts.
“Although we are now seeing two cases of household transmission again, this is in the household, the closest relationship you would expect people to have, and therefore that gives us some confidence that we are still on the track that we need to be on – but this is early days,” he said.
- The full list of current Victorian exposure sites is here
Thursday confirmation of three more cases came just hours after Queensland said it would require all arrivals from Melbourne to fill out border declaration forms from 1am on Saturday.
Acting Premier Steven Miles said Melbourne had not been declared a hotspot, but travellers would have to formally declare they had not visited virus risk zones in the Victorian capital before being allowed to enter the Sunshine State.
South Australia has already closed its border to people from greater Melbourne. Travel is still open to people from regional Victoria.
SA chief health officer Nicola Spurrier said she was confident Victoria would quickly stamp out the latest outbreak. But she could not say how long the border would remain shut.
“You probably all remember, knowing about the 14 days – or potentially the 28 days – that some states use when we make a determination about lifting the border,” she said.
“In this instance, because it’s just happened, we’re in the early stages and we may not need to wait a whole two weeks.”
NSW is also screening arrivals from Melbourne.
Victorian health authorities believe the outbreak was likely sparked by a nebuliser used by one returned traveller in hotel quarantine. Nebulisers turn medicine into mist, and have been banned in quarantine and hospitals from the early days of the pandemic.
This week, Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said it was possible everyone on that hotel floor had been exposed to the virus through the air and warned more cases were likely.
There have been cases of coronavirus transmission across three Victorian quarantine hotels within a week, with three confirmed to be the more infectious British strain.
New strains put quarantine to the test
Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said the British strain had “blown open cracks” in hotel quarantine infection controls.
In Melbourne on Thursday, however, Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended Australia’s hotel quarantine program.
“The hotel quarantine program has seen some 211,000 people come through it. And we’re talking about a handful of cases,” he said.
“This is a system the rest of the world wants to replicate. And this is a system that has been very effective in protecting Australia, and that’s why all the states and territories agreed last year that this was the right way to go.”
He acknowledged there were “challenges”, particularly as virulent new strains of the virus emerged.
“I applaud the work done, whether it’s by the Victorian government here, with the changes that they’ve made over these last few months, in particular,” he said.
“That information has been shared with other states and territories.”
The federal government is still examining ways to expand its Howard Springs facility, near Darwin, to take more returning travellers.