Health authorities are scrambling to find how three children and four adults became infected with a dreaded variant of coronavirus that may have dashed hopes to an early end to Melbourne’s lockdown.
A West Melbourne family who travelled to parts of southern NSW were on Friday found to have the Delta strain, which has ravaged India.
The Kappa variant, which was also first seen in India, has been the dominant strain of Melbourne’s most recent outbreak, meaning the source of the family’s infection is unknown.
Anyone in NSW who has been in Victoria since 4pm on Thursday May 27 will now be required to stay at home until at least June 10
Three of Friday’s four new cases are linked to the family, taking that West Melbourne cluster to seven
The family spread the Delta strain to two adults and a student of another household, whose children all attend North Melbourne Primary School.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said officials are investigating if the strain started in NSW or regional Victoria, where the family briefly passed through.
‘We have to explore all avenues. The average incubation time is about six days, and that puts it in NSW, Jervis Bay territory, or indeed earlier,’ Professor Sutton said.
‘We have to be clear who the likely first case in this cluster is and then go through a really forensic process of understanding everywhere they have been, and obviously testing people they may have been in contact with, including blood tests of people who have recovered from illness.’
But NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard hit back at speculation the concerning Covid strain originated in his state.
‘I’ll just say it’s a bit unhelpful to go making any statements that could be either interpreted or could be mistakenly interpreted (in that way),’ Mr Hazzard told 2GB.
‘There is no evidence whatsoever that this family picked up the variant in NSW.’
While the Delta variant has been found previously in Australian hotel quarantine, this is the first time it has emerged in community cases.
Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely said the ‘chase will be on’ to find the missing link.
‘It means that we now have, not only the Kappa variant, but that Delta — the most infectious version of the coronavirus is here,’ he told news.com.au.
Professor Blakely said that so far, genomic testing hasn’t been able to identify any returned travellers in hotel quarantine with the exact same strain.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said officials are investigating if the strain started in NSW or regional Victoria, where the family briefly passed through
SW Health Minister Brad Hazzard hit back at speculation the concerning Covid strain originated in his state
The Covid-positive family was in Jervis Bay, Goulburn, Hyams Beach and Vincentia while potentially infectious on May 23 and 24
‘There is a possibility that retesting will find a link to somebody in quarantine but if that doesn’t happen we will be in the same situation as the Wollert man again — we have to find out where the family picked up the infection from,’ he said.
Professor Sutton said that while the strain was ‘disturbing news,’ the government has spent the past 48 hours identifying close contacts, including 300 staff and students from North Melbourne Primary School – 70 per cent of which have tested negative so far.
‘The fact that it’s a variant that is different to all of our other cases means that it is not related in terms of transmission (to the previous outbreak),’ he said.
What is the Delta variant?
The Delta variant is the main variant of Covid-19 that is wreaking havoc across India
Health officials believe the variant has very high transmission rates
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said there’s been reports of children becoming severely sick with the variant
The Delta strain is also believed to be more easily transmitted among children
Nepal, the UK, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have also seen a rise in cases related to the variant
‘It has not been linked to any sequenced cases across Australia from hotel quarantine or anywhere else.
‘We are examining who is the likely index case in this family and therefore trying to trace back where this variant has been picked up.’
Three of Friday’s four new cases are linked to the family, taking that West Melbourne cluster to seven.
Some of the close contacts also live in public housing towers, which became a key focus a year ago early in Melbourne’s second lockdown.
NSW on Thursday extended by a week the stay-at-home order for people who have arrived from Victoria after the southern state lengthened its lockdown.
Anyone in NSW who has been in Victoria since 4pm on Thursday May 27 will now be required to stay at home until at least June 10.
Prof Sutton added the family may have acquired the virus in Jervis Bay given the approximate six-day incubation period of their virus strain.
But this was not confirmed and Victorian authorities are still investigating.
NSW Health said in a statement that anyone who has been in the listed southern NSW towns should be vigilant for respiratory illness.
Some 130 people in NSW are currently deemed close contacts of the family, and none of those contacts have tested COVID-positive to date.
Venues of concern include Trapper’s Bakery in Goulburn on the morning of May 24, 5 Little Pigs at Huskisson on the morning of May 21 and the Green Patch campground in Jervis Bay over an extended period.
Anyone who visited those venues at those times must get tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate for 14 days regardless of the result.
NSW recorded zero new locally-acquired cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday, as well as zero new cases in hotel quarantine.
NEW NEW SOUTH WALES VENUES EXPOSED TO COVID
Anyone who attended the following venues at the times listed must immediately call NSW Health on 1800 943 553, get tested and isolate until further information from NSW Health is received.
– Shell Coles Express Big Merino, Goulburn, May 19, 1.45pm-2.05pm
– The Coffee Pedaler, Gundagai, May 19, 9.30am-11.15am
– Green Patch campground, Boodoree National Park, Jervis Bay, 4pm May 19 – 9am May 24
– 5 Little Pigs, Huskisson, May 21, 8am-11.30am
– Huskisson Treasure Chest, May 21, 11.30am-12pm
– Coles Vincentia Shopping Centre, May 21 from 12-1pm, 22 May from 12-1pm
Anyone who attended the following venues at the times listed must get tested and isolate until a negative result is received.
– Gundagai Craft Centre, May 19, 11am-12pm
– Junque and Disorderly Antique Shop, 19 May, 11am-12pm