NSW has confirmed another case of the Omicron COVID variant – this time in a traveller who has not returned from southern Africa.
The infection is the seventh in NSW of the worrying variant, and has sparked new concerns about its spread.
NSW Health said the infected person arrived in Sydney on flight QR908 from Doha on November 23. Two other members of their household also have the virus, with urgent genomic sequencing underway to confirm they also have the variant.
“These travellers have not been in southern Africa and NSW Health is concerned transmission may have occurred on this flight,” it said in a statement on Thursday.
Their vaccination status is not known.
All passengers on the flight have been asked to get a COVID test and isolate. NSW Health said it would contact passengers and flight crew.
The traveller is the third case of the Omicron variant in NSW to arrive in Australia before increased quarantine requirements for people who had been in southern Africa.
They are now in special health accommodation with their family.
NSW Health has listed the Mantra serviced apartments in Chatswood as an exposure site from November 23-30. Anyone who visited the complex must get tested and isolate until they get a negative result.
Earlier on Thursday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said 500 previously tested swabs of travellers who had returned since November 22 had been lab tested to ensure they did not contain the Omicron strain.
All of the 271 cases reported on NSW on Thursday were the Delta strain.
Mr Hazzard said while the spotlight was on the Omicron strain, people needed to remember Delta was still circulating and everyone should be cautious.
“We know this virus is dangerous, it does come out in some different forms,” he said.
“Don’t take it lightly.”
The jury is still out on whether the latest strain is more dangerous and could overwhelm hospitals, or merely be more transmissible and able to replace stronger variants.
A woman in her 30s from the Central Coast and a man in his 40s from Cabramatta in Sydney’s south-west, are also infected with Omicron. They arrived in Sydney on the same Qatar Airways flight from Doha a week ago.
Mr Hazzard said the Cabramatta community was on high alert but stressed the infected man had visited only one shop on Monday.
“There have been no further indications of transmission in that area,” he said.
“It is still wise for us all if we have any symptoms whatsoever, whether it is Cabramatta, wherever it is, if you have symptoms don’t forget the basic rule to go and get tested.”
He also urged anyone who received their last vaccination six months ago to get a booster shot as soon as possible, saying there had been a 40 per cent increase in the uptake since last week.
He said he would welcome any decision by The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation to approve vaccines for children aged five-to-11.
“There is no question that if we could get to those younger people it would make the community a lot safer,” Mr Hazzard said.
NSW had no deaths on Wednesday while 81,877 people were tested.
It is two weeks before more restrictions are lifted NSW, and the unvaccinated will be able to return to hospitality venues and all shops.
Some 94.6 per cent of people 16 and older have had one vaccine dose while 92.6 per cent of adults have had both.
More than 81 per cent of teenagers aged 12-15 have had one shot while 76.8 per cent are fully vaccinated.
There are 144 people in hospital, including 24 in intensive care and 10 ventilated.