Locked-down southeast Queensland will on Sunday learn how far and wide an elusive Delta virus has been quietly spreading after the region was taken by surprise with its strictest-ever three-day shutdown.
Authorities are racing to contact trace the latest outbreak that could result in cases popping up across the region as the chief health officer warned: “I don’t know where the virus is”.
“It could be on the Sunshine Coast or the Gold Coast … we don’t know where the virus is,” she said.
“But wherever it is, I don’t want it to get further. I want it to stay where it is.”
On Saturday night, three more prominent Brisbane schools became caught up in the outbreak, with thousands of students and parents contacted by their school and asked to isolate.
They were Brisbane Boys Grammar, Brisbane Girls Grammar and St Peters Lutheran College.
The genome of the Delta outbreak has been matched back to two returned travellers who flew to Brisbane on June 29 but the intermediate transmissions are unknown.
Eleven local government areas including Brisbane, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Ipswich and Logan entered the harshest restrictions the sunshine state has seen at 4pm on Saturday.
The sudden announcement was sparked after six new locally acquired cases linked to a high school student.
The six infections included four family members of the Indooroopilly student (her parents and two siblings), a medical student who tutors the teen and a staff member of lronside State School, which the family’s youngest child attends.
Dr Jeannette Young suspected the infected medical student could be the index case of the outbreak and likely brought the virus into the Indooroopilly High School student’s home.
The medical student had been at Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, the University of Queensland and the Translational Research Institute, and has a sibling who works at a hospital, Dr Young said.
“I expect there are going to be an enormous number of exposure sites all through Brisbane and probably as well through the Sunshine Coast and further,” she said.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles declared a “go hard, go early” response to the outbreak.
“It is our intention that this is a short lockdown and that we can deal with this outbreak within days,” he told reporters.
Residents in affected areas can only leave home for essential work, study or child care, to exercise, buy food and supplies, and receive healthcare, including being tested for COVID-19 or vaccinated against it.
Non-essential travel must be within 10km of residences and everyone must wear a mask when outside their home.
Funerals and weddings in the lockdown zone will be limited to 10 people and hospitality will be takeaway only. Cinemas, hairdressers, gyms and places of worship have to close.
Dr Miles said the government would work through the details of a compensation package on Saturday and make announcements on Sunday.
Meanwhile AFL, NRL and Super Netball competitions were thrown into chaos because of the snap lockdown.
The NRL was forced to postpone Saturday’s three matches, with Queensland Health later clearing the games to go ahead at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.
- Qld Exposure sites can be viewed here
Sydney families ‘hiding’ virus
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard says Sydney families may be failing to come forward when members fall ill with the virus as they’re worried about income loss.
Mr Hazzard said it was unclear whether a man in his 60s who died in the city’s southwest had been tested for the virus beforehand. However his family was suffering symptoms.
The state recorded 210 new locally acquired cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Friday.
The man’s death was the 14th of the current outbreak, which started in mid-June.
Meanwhile a threatened anti-lockdown protest in central Sydney failed to eventuate on Saturday.
Police set up an exclusion zone around the city between 9am and 3pm after also warning taxi and rideshare companies they would face fines of up to half a million dollars for transporting passengers into the CBD.
Mr Hazzard said a “terrible situation” had arisen where families, particularly in the southwest, were not coming forward when one of them fell ill.
Some people may be worried about their ability to go to work and earn an income if it’s known there is a case in their household, he told reporters on Saturday.
Mr Hazzard declared the Delta variant “partial to younger people” with just under two thirds of the new cases (138) aged under 40.
Younger people are also being hospitalised, he said.
Of the 53 people in intensive care, six are in their 20s, four are in their 30s, one is in their 40s, 18 are in their 50s, 14 are in their 60s, nine are in their 70s and one is in their 80s.
“The older age brackets are actually having less numbers now, it is the younger people who are actually taking up places in our intensive care units,” he said.
Of the 203 people in hospital, 27 are ventilated.
“By far the majority” of new cases continued to be diagnosed in Sydney’s southwest and western Sydney, Mr Hazzard said.
The risk of infected patients coming into hospital and sending hundreds of health workers into isolation has led the state to suspend non-urgent elective surgery, with many procedures to be dealt with by the private system instead.
Saturday marked the return to work for the construction sector after a fortnight-long enforced break, with work allowed to resume on non-occupied sites provided COVID-safe plans are in force.
But the sector cannot call on 68,000 workers — or 42 per cent of the workforce — from eight council areas worst-hit by the city’s coronavirus outbreak.