New exposure sites have been added to Sydney’s latest outbreak as authorities investigate whether a limo driver who caused the spread had breached health protocols.
An inner-west Sydney fruit grocer and a western suburbs bowling club are the latest COVID-19 sites on the list as NSW embarks on an ‘urgent’ race to contain the COVID bloom.
Cases in Sydney’s east grew to three on Thursday, which included the driver, his wife and a woman in her 70s who was exposed to the virus at the Belle Cafe in Vaucluse where the driver had been.
Additionally, a man in his 40s has tested virus-positive in the Baulkham Hills area in northwest Sydney.
But NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant cautioned this might be a false positive or an old case, as the viral load in his system was very low.
The man in his 60s, from Bondi, works as a limousine driver transporting international flight crews and it’s been hypothesised he contracted the virus while driving US air crew.
He has tested positive to the Delta variant with a genome sequence that’s been “uploaded” from the USA.
Police are investigating whether the driver breached any health orders which require those working around the hotel quarantine system to be tested for the virus daily and wear personal protective equipment.
It’s not clear if the man was getting tested daily because his first recorded test was on June 15 when he returned a positive result.
It’s also unknown at this stage if the driver was wearing a mask as required and if he was vaccinated.
NSW Health minister Brad Hazzard said it was “inexcusable” for anyone to become slack about the rules.
“I will remind all drivers who pick people up from the airport more broadly that you have obligations,” Mr Hazzard said.
“They are to get saliva tested every day and to make sure you wear appropriate PPE.”
The outbreak could mean NSW reintroduces some restrictions ahead of the school holiday period, which begins on June 26.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged everyone to act with caution.
Those catching Sydney public transport are advised to wear masks and extra pop-up testing clinics have been set up in Sydney’s east.
“Unless you absolutely have to attend a large gathering, absolutely have to engage in activities of a social nature … we ask everybody to refrain,” she said.
States quickly reacted by snapping shut their borders and reintroducing travel restrictions.
Tasmania, the ACT and South Australia have barred entry to anyone who has been to an exposure site.
Travellers heading to Western Australia must get tested and self-quarantine for 14 days from their date of exposure, while arrivals in the Northern Territor will go into supervised quarantine.
Queensland has introduced a “traffic light” interstate travel system similar to the one also used in Victoria.
From 1am on Saturday, all arrivals to the sunshine state will need a declaration pass confirming they have not attended a hotspot in NSW.
Victoria on Thursday evening said residents from the City of Sydney, Waverley and Woollahra council areas must obtain a travel permit, get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result if they cross the Murray.
Melbourne travel limits lifted
Victorians can now travel freely across the state as restrictions ease for Melbourne and regional residents.
Melburnians are no longer subject the 25km travel limit and can enter regional Victoria for the first time in three weeks after the state’s fourth COVID-19 lockdown.
Under the raft of rule changes from Friday, Melbourne residents can host two adult visitors plus their dependents per day and gather outdoors in groups of 20.
Masks remain mandatory indoors, but are only required outdoors when social distancing is not possible.
Businesses such as gyms and indoor entertainment venues can reopen, while density limits at offices, cafes, restaurants and pubs have increased.
In regional Victoria, the home visit cap is up to five adults plus their dependents per day, while up to 50 people can gather outdoors.
Restrictions are likely to ease again in a week’s time if cases remain low, with no new local infections reported on Thursday.
The national COVID spotlight has shifted north as Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton declared three Sydney areas “orange zones” under Victoria’s permit system amid a growing outbreak.
Those planning to enter Victoria from the City of Sydney, Waverley and Woollahra council areas must now obtain a travel permit, get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result.
Professor Sutton’s border reclassification call came as he came under fire for reportedly flying to Canberra for a National Health and Medical Research Council awards night on Wednesday.
It is believed he was attending the event in a work capacity, meaning he would not have contravened any restrictions.
But Shadow Health Minister Georgie Crozier questioned the optics.
“We can’t have people coming to our own homes and yet the chief health officer, who is providing advice to the government, buzzes off to Canberra to a glitzy award night,” she told reporters.
“That says a lot about the priorities of the chief health officer and of the Andrews government.”
Meanwhile, an “operational error” has been blamed for a COVID-positive nurse working shifts at a second Melbourne hospital.
Victoria’s testing commander Jeroen Weimar confirmed the woman, who had been treating the state’s three hospitalised COVID-19 cases at Epping Private Hospital, also worked on June 11 and 12 at Epping’s Northern Hospital while possibly infectious.
Staff working on a COVID ward and dealing directly with virus patients are not supposed to work elsewhere, and the error has potentially exposed an additional 27 Northern Hospital healthcare workers and others to the virus.