Perth and the Peel region’s long weekend has been thrown into turmoil with a three-day snap lockdown sparked by a hotel quarantine leak linked to two cases from India.
The sudden lockdown has effectively shut down the Anzac long weekend, with dawn services, events, gatherings and travel cancelled until midnight Monday.
People must wear masks when leaving home which is only permissible for four reasons — work, shopping for essentials, healthcare or exercising for one hour per day.
Meanwhile late Friday it was revealed three new cases of blood clots have been linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine, including the first case in someone aged over 50, bringing the total clot cases to six from 1.1 million administered doses.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) confirmed the cases as a 35-year-old woman from New South Wales, a 49-year-old Queensland man and an 80-year-old Victorian man.
“All three patients are clinically stable, have responded well to treatment and are recovering,” a TGA statement read.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said the sudden lockdown was necessary after two people spent several days in the community while infectious and visited a string of locations including popular tourist spot Kings Park.
The cases involved are a 54-year-old man who arrived from China and stayed in the Mercure Hotel before going to Melbourne where his positive case was detected.
He spent his first night out of Perth quarantine at the home of a friend, a Kardinya mother-of-two who has also tested positive while her children have tested negative.
The man visited locations throughout the city before leaving Perth on April 21 and going to Melbourne.
Mr McGowan said he hoped the lockdown would not need to be extended.
“I know this is hard to take and I wish we didn’t need to be doing this,” Mr McGowan told reporters.
“But we can’t take any chances with the virus.”
How did the virus escape?
Genomic testing has confirmed the virus initially spread in the corridors of the Mercure Hotel from a couple who had returned from India.
A pregnant mother and her four-year-old daughter who were staying across the corridor tested positive and remain in quarantine at the hotel.
The man whose infection sparked the lockdown had been staying in a room adjacent to the couple from India. Victorian authorities on Friday said he was asymptomatic.
He tested negative and spent time in venues across Perth — including four nights in short-stay accommodation at the University of Western Australia — before returning home to Victoria.
The man flew to Melbourne on flight QF778 which departed on Wednesday carrying 257 passengers.
He has been staying at a Victorian “health hotel” for international arrivals with COVID-19 since Thursday, before his positive test came back on Friday morning.
Hotel quarantine’s ventilation issues
Before the latest outbreak was detected, Perth’s hotel quarantine centres were already under the spotlight and considered ‘high risk’ because of ventilation issues.
Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson received a report on April 8 which identified problems at three hotels – the Mercure, the Sheraton Four Points and Novotel Langley.
Dr Robertson wrote to the premier last Friday advising that the Mercure was the highest-risk of the three hotels and it should no longer accommodate returned travellers.
The documents were released by the government this week.
The mother, who is six months’ pregnant, and her daughter at the Mercure returned positive tests that day.
In his letter to the premier, Dr Robertson said the risks could be mitigated by changes including installing HEPA air filters in rooms with positive cases.
The report was commissioned after a security guard at the Sheraton contracted COVID-19 in January, prompting a five-day lockdown.
Mr McGowan said the Mercure would no longer accommodate returned travellers and the government would review the continued use of the other high-risk hotels.
A plan to transition the Mercure to a “low-risk” quarantine hotel for seasonal workers will also be reviewed.
Opposition Leader Mia Davies blamed the McGowan government’s failure to address “systemic gaps” in the hotel quarantine system for the outbreak.
States and NZ respond
States that have been enjoying no community transmission reacted quickly to the outbreak by imposing quarantine requirements on incoming Western Australians.
New Zealand closed its borders to WA and paused the travel bubble.
Victorian authorities are contact-tracing passengers and NSW Health has commenced screening of recent flights from Perth.
Meanwhile, Queensland will require anyone who has been in Perth or Peel since April 17 to comply with the requirements of the WA lockdown.
Tasmania has declared Perth and Peel high-risk regions, with travel and quarantine rules imposed for those coming into the state who may have been in those regions.
The NT has also declared Perth and the Peel region COVID-19 hotspots.