Human error is being blamed for the breach of travel rules at Brisbane airport that potentially exposed hundreds of other passengers to the coronavirus on Thursday.
Brisbane Airport Corporation confirmed the incident – where a COVID-positive traveller from Papua New Guinea crossed into the airport’s green zone and mingled with passengers for more than an hour – was being investigated.
A BAC spokesperson told the ABC the traveller and a companion were “accidentally” let into the international airport’s green zone – which is meant to be restricted to New Zealand travellers – at 9.55am Thursday after arriving on an Air Niugini flight.
They were in transit and due to board a Qatar airlines flight later in the day.
For 90 minutes, the pair shopped and used public toilets, before being retrieved.
The man returned an inconclusive virus test on Thursday, which prompted a second test. It was positive, and confirmed on Friday.
“That suggests to me, as well with the serology results, that he’s right at the end of his illness – he could almost be fully recovered,” Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young said.
“We know that the risk is always in that 48 hours before someone develops symptoms, at the start of their illness. He’s right at the end and he’s well.
“The risks are all adding up to be less and less and less.”
Dr Young has designated the airport terminal as a venue of concern.
Anyone who visited between 9.45am and midday on Thursday should monitor their symptoms and get tested immediately if they feel unwell.
Dr Young said CCTV footage showed the travellers spent most of their time in Hudson Café, had minimal interaction with other people and wore masks appropriately.
“We don’t have genome sequencing yet on this man, and we may not get that because the amount of virus was so low, which is a good thing,” she said.
Nearly 400 travellers awaiting three different flights to New Zealand were in the departures terminal at the time.
Dr Young said some airport staff were in quarantine but she did not expect broader consequences for Queensland as a result of the breach.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also has downplayed the risk to Kiwi travellers after green zone breach.
Prior to the man’s positive diagnosis, NZ health authorities had asked the Kiwi travellers to monitor their health.
Ms Ardern said onward transmission from the infected man was unlikely.
“At this stage, officials consider it to present a relatively low risk to travellers,” she said.
She said the case showed “how important it is on both sides” of the Tasman to be vigilant at all international airports to keep the bubble from popping.
“We had to put a lot of work into the arrangements,” she said.
“From time to time, we are going to have to manage situations where there may be lapses.
“[We have to] continue to ensure [the rules] are applied, that we have rigour around them, and how careful everyone continues to work.”
BAC said the areas by the pair had been cleaned thoroughly and all green zone staff were wearing personal protective equipment at the time.
Three green flights departed during the two hours the pair were there, but airport officials said only “a handful” of passengers were in the vicinity of the couple.
“BAC is conducting a thorough investigation and unreservedly apologises for this human error,” the operator said on Friday.