Western Australia and South Australia are on COVID alert after two truck drivers who travelled from NSW through three states tested positive to the coronavirus upon their arrival in Perth.
The pair were tested as part of routine surveillance in NSW on Wednesday, before embarking on their journey through Victoria and South Australian to WA, where they arrived on Thursday night.
A dive in testing, more exposure venues and a slip in lockdown compliance in western NSW, meanwhile, has created perfect conditions for outbreaks hundreds strong to crop up in the region’s cities, a local health official warns.
And it appears increasingly unlikely that Victoria’s sixth lockdown will end on its scheduled date of September 2.
Here’s the latest.
Premier Mark McGowan has moved to reassure West Australians the risk to the community was low, as the two truck drivers – both essential workers – had minimal contact with others.
“Both truck drivers wore masks whilst outside of the truck,” he told reporters.
“They reportedly slept in their truck last night and had minimal contact with others throughout their travel.”
Four people who did interact with them have been ordered into a two-week quarantine, he said.
The men, aged 29 and 23, travelled from NSW via Victoria and South Australia.
Public health alerts have been issued for a BP Truckstop in Norseman, the IOR Petroleum Fuel Station in Widgiemooltha, the Shell Fuel Station in Southern Cross, and the Mobil roadhouse in Yellowdine.
Late on Friday night, South Australia also released a list of exposure sites associated with positive cases. The sites are petrol stations in Ceduna and Port Augusta.
Anyone who visited the venues during the listed times must get tested and isolate for 14 days, but broader restrictions will not be introduced yet.
“I’ve queried this with the Chief Health Officer this afternoon … we’ll monitor things very carefully,” Mr McGowan said.
The testing regime that caught the men’s infection, but also allowed them to travel with a test result pending, has been successful nation-wide during the pandemic, Mr McGowan said.
“They’ve done nothing wrong,” he said.
The announcement came after Friday’s national cabinet meeting, at which the Premier defended his refusal to agree to drop borders once the nation achieved 70 per cent vaccination coverage.
New South Wales
Western NSW Local Health District chief executive Scott McLachlan has warned that other regional cities could soon see a rapid rise in of cases.
NSW reported 882 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and two more deaths on Friday. Of the new cases, 49 were in the state’s west and far west, bringing the number of infections in the region to more than 500 for the first time.
While 346 of those cases are in Dubbo, Mr McLachlan said Bathurst and Orange could soon see a similar explosion of cases.
At least 33 infections have been diagnosed in Orange, and 19 in Bathurst.
Only 3700 people were tested across the region on Thursday.
“That’s the lowest we’ve seen in weeks and so it’s really concerning to see this continual drop,” Mr McLachlan told reporters.
“It was only four days ago we were up above 10,000 tests a day across the whole of the region.”
Adding to his concern, more than 150 fines for breaching public health orders were handed out and a bevy of new exposure venues listed.
Other cities in the region could “absolutely” find themselves with an outbreak of hundreds of cases like Dubbo, Mr McLachlan said.
Also worrying health authorities is the growing cluster in the small, remote, predominantly Indigenous town of Wilcannia, where one in 15 people have now caught the virus.
Meanwhile Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday announced a long-awaited plan to begin returning NSW students to school.
Kindergarten and year one children will return on October 25, years two, six and 11 go back from November 1, and remaining year groups a week later.
HSC exams for year 12 students will be pushed back to November 9, and all people working on school campuses must be vaccinated by November 8.
Victorian authorities are refusing to be drawn on whether a lockdown extension is a foregone conclusion, as coronavirus cases remain stubbornly high.
The state’s sixth lockdown, which was initially announced for seven days, is scheduled to end in five days.
However, it appears increasingly likely to be extended again given the high number of mystery cases and people infectious in the community.
Health Minister Foley said it was too early for officials to make a call and could not provide clarity when asked if Victoria would be in lockdown until hitting 70 to 80 per cent vaccination rates.
“I don’t know about that but I know there have been public health measures for the last 18 months in place,” he said on Friday.
COVID commander Jeroen Weimar said the state’s outbreak was “not wobbly”, but conceded Melbourne’s west was “a significant area of concern”, with 46 of Friday’s 79 new infections coming from there.
“We are at a crossroads,” he said.
More help has arrived for COVID-hit Shepparton as the regional town’s outbreak worsens and spreads close to the NSW border.
Ten new cases were linked to the Shepparton outbreak on Friday, taking the cluster to 79 since it first emerged a week ago.
It has also spread to nearby towns after an aged care worker in Echuca, an hour’s drive from Shepparton, became infected by her partner.
“In some regards, we’re not quite on top of it,” Goulburn Valley Health chief executive Matt Sharp said.
About 16,000 residents are self-isolating in the region, sparking staff shortages for food distributors, supermarkets and pharmacies.
Hundreds of food packages were delivered to vulnerable members of the Shepparton community on Friday, while Coles has donated two semi-trailers full of products to a local food share agency.
The Australian Capital Territory government has revised lockdown restrictions for some businesses as it weighs up whether to come out of lockdown next week.
Canberra recorded 21 new coronavirus infections on Friday, taking its active case count to 209. Of those, 11 – including a child under the age of 12 – are in hospital.
Cases over coming days will be used to decide whether to end Canberra’s lockdown on Thursday as scheduled.
In the meantime, small and non-essential retailers are able to have two people on site for the purpose of contactless delivery, and click and collect orders.
Large essential retailers, such as shops selling hardware and building supplies, are restricted to delivery or click and collect for all but trade customers.
The proportion of ACT residents aged 12 or older with at least one vaccine dose has passed 60 per cent.