A man who flew from Melbourne to Queensland with the coronavirus slipped through the gaps of the country’s checking system because he did not declare he was in contact with a confirmed case.
It’s understood the 24-year-old’s flatmate was part of the Rydges on Swanston outbreak, but authorities are checking if the man had been informed about the positive test before he boarded his flight from Melbourne to Brisbane.
Contact tracers are now racing against time to reach and test all the people the man came in contact with over the course of an airport bus trip, two flights, a small gathering and a day’s work picking strawberries.
There are also questions over what kind of medical tests he had to pass before being allowed into the sunshine state.
Queensland has kept its borders closed to arrivals, but the man had been granted a pass to head north from Melbourne because he was a seasonal worker.
Which travellers are checked for fever?
Generally, temperature checks at Australian airports only screen international arrivals.
And Canberra is the only Australian airport to have the equipment and policy to implement mandatory body temperature scans for all passengers.
Qantas conducts temperature reads on passengers at check-in, but the Melbourne man was flying on Virgin Australia.
Virgin does not conduct mandatory temperature checks, but provides passengers with hand sanitiser and masks.
It’s also possible the man’s infection would not have been picked up through a temperature screening – a person can have the virus for 48 hours before showing any symptoms.
There’s also some debate that mandatory temperature checks can heighten the risk of the virus spreading.
At Sydney airport, temperature checks were brought in for all international arrivals in March, causing huge queues and backlogs, with people crammed in small areas and unable to properly socially distance.
There was also concern about the hygiene of the testing, with one administrator seen not changing gloves between checking each passenger.
More than 250 people have been tested in relation to the fruit picker’s case.
So far, no results have been positive – but there are plans to follow up and re-test next week, chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said.
However, a man who was a passenger on one of the flights said the process for follow-ups and testing has been “disappointing”.
Jason Paterdis, a surgeon from Brisbane, contacted the virus hotline when he became aware of the public health alert.
But Dr Peterdis said the nurse he spoke to wasn’t aware of the alert issued by the Queensland Department of Health, and told him not to worry about getting tested unless he developed symptoms.
He was later contacted by the health department, which told him he would need to self-quarantine for 10 days.
“The nurse I spoke with [also] didn’t know much about incubation periods and things like that, which I would expect,” Dr Paterdis told the ABC.
“If you were going to call a number that was advised to call based on a public health alert, [I thought] that they would do better than that.
“It’s disappointing they just seem to not know much about it.”
The 24-year-old fruit picker is in isolation and recovering from the coronavirus in Bundaberg.
It’s been confirmed he took the Sky Bus on June 1 when he flew from Melbourne to Brisbane.
He caught up with about 15 friends and family in Brisbane during an overnight stay there and then flew to Bundaberg.
He stayed in shared accommodation, and only worked one day before developing symptoms.
Authorities said the young man would have been infectious while he was in transit.
They are in the process of contacting people from the Virgin Flight VA313 which took off in Melbourne on June 1 and Virgin Flight VA2905, which left Brisbane for Bundaberg the following day.
They are also talking to passengers and the driver of a Sky Bus which left Southern Cross station on June 1.
If you have concerns, call the coronavirus hotline on 1800 020 080.