Staff coming into work when they are sick are believed to be responsible for Australia’s big new coronavirus outbreaks, infectious diseases experts say.
It comes as figures reveal the ‘growth factor’ of the virus – a critical measurement which shows whether Australia has COVID-19 under control – has spiked.
The figure passed 1.01 on Monday and ticked up to 1.04 on Tuesday, an ABC blog reported.
It is the first time in a month that the ‘growth factor’ – where the national broadcaster compares supplied case numbers from week to week – has topped 1.0.
The spike came as authorities confirmed 49 people have tested positive at a Melbourne meatworks and a 16th person died at Sydney’s Newmarch nursing home.
Both outbreaks are believed to be caused by ill staff coming into work, with authorities confirming the Sydney case and continuing to investigate the Melbourne outbreak.
ABC figures show Australia’s ‘growth factor’ has spiked to 1.04 in recent days. Authorities want to the community to keep the rate below ‘one’
New South Wales reported three cases on Tuesday and nine on Wednesday while Victoria reported 22 and 17 cases on the same days.
Tasmania reported two cases on Wednesday and Queensland no new cases. Western Australia has gone a full week without any new cases and South Australia 13 days,
What’s caused the new outbreaks?
A healthy worker – appropriately – wears a mask at a cafe in Sydney this week
Infectious diseases expert, Professor Peter Collignon from the Australian National University, said staff going to work while sick appears to be a major factor in the recent corona-clusters.
‘The biggest mistake for clusters is that staff members have gone to work when they’re unwell,’ Prof Collignon told Daily Mail Australia, referring to instances both Down Under and in New Zealand.
Case in point was the deadly outbreak at the Newmarch nursing home, in Caddens, western Sydney.
The outbreak occurred after a staff member with mild COVID-19 symptoms attended work for six days in a row – infecting 37 of 100 residents and 26 staff.
Anglicare, the centre’s operator, has warned the situation is likely to get worse.
Meanwhile, health authorities in Victoria have conceded an infected worker sparked this week’s outbreak at Cedar Meats in Gippsland, in Melbourne’s west.
But it’s not yet clear if the worker was suffering any symptoms at the time of the outbreak.
Several workers were unwell by the time authorities realised the situation was out of control and the virus appears to have got a three-week head start on health officials.
49 workers at a Melbourne meatworks have tested positive to COVID-19, after an infected employee sparked an outbreak
Family members outside Newmarch House, in Caddens, in Sydney’s west, where 16 residents have died from a COVID-19 outbreak
A nurse at one of Victoria’s mobile testing sites. All Cedar Meats workers have now been tested for the coronavirus
The first worker at the centre was diagnosed on April 2 and the second worker on April 24, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) said on Tuesday.
A DHHS spokeswoman claimed the April 2 case ”had not been at work while infectious so the workplace was not considered an exposure site’ in a statement.
The second case was diagnosed weeks later and, on April 25, a worker tested positive at hospital after severing his thumb in an apparent workplace accident.
Authorities have indicated a silent spreader may have been responsible for the outbreak.
But an unnamed meatworker claimed on Radio 3AW this morning that the worker infected in early April had attended the abattoir prior to his diagnosis.
Professor Sutton told talkback host Neil Mitchell ‘it remains a rumour’ and an investigation was ‘appropriate’.
A DHHS spokeswoman said: ‘The source of infection is still under investigation’.
Experts say Australia is in for a long battle with ’20 to 30 cases a day’
The infectious diseases doctor Professor Collignon said Australia should expect the virus’s case numbers to bob up and down over the coming weeks, especially if compared from day-to-day.
That’s because the country has driven the total number of cases down to extremely low levels – and big outbreaks such as the meatworks have a significant impact on figures.
The infectious diseases doctor said it would be troubling if the total number of cases consistently rose by more than 100 per day.
Say ahhh: A man gets tested at a Victorian mobile clinic – as an outbreak at a meatworks leads to a surge of cases in the state
Prof Collignon said it seems 20 to 30 cases a day seems to be a ‘new normal’, like case numbers have been in success stories in Taiwan and South Korea.
The virus is said to have a ‘long tail’ after its peak. ‘We have to expect this for the next few months,’ the expert said. ‘It might get worse in winter because viruses transmit more.’
Prof Collignon said Australia was still in a good place after successfully deploying a ‘suppression’ strategy against the disease, using social distancing and lockdowns.
A mother helps her daughter with her face mask after sharing a Happy Meal in Sydney this week
Australia has reported 6,856 cases and 97 deaths in total over the course of the pandemic
The strategy has worked so well the Federal Government and the states have signaled restrictions will likely be eased from Friday.
Prof Collignon said measures going forward needn’t be full-on lockdowns, but will involve Australians following social distancing rules.
‘We can’t become hermits, but we can do a lot of things,’ he said.