A growing coronavirus outbreak has sparked fears Melbourne could be plunged into another snap lockdown in a desperate battle to stop the cluster from spreading, as 23,000 footy fans at Sunday night’s game at the MCG are put on alert.
Contact tracers are scrambling to track down the mystery link after an outbreak in the city’s northern suburbs grew to nine cases within two days – with experts fearing it may have spread further.
The five cases recorded on Tuesday were all linked to the highly contagious Indian strain after an infected man aged in his 60s spread the virus to four household contacts, sparking a return to a series of restrictions including the wearing of masks indoors and limits of five guests inside a home.
Genomic sequencing has linked the latest cases to a Wollert man who caught the virus in South Australian hotel quarantine two weeks ago.
But how the virus was transmitted remains a mystery, amid growing fears the city could once again be plunged into the lockdown if the outbreak isn’t contained.
It has also emerged that none of three cases aged over-50 had been vaccinated despite being eligible for the jab – which can help stop transmission.
An urgent alert has been issued after an infected case attended the AFL game between Collingwood and Port Adelaide at the MCG on Sunday, with hundreds of fans in certain sections of the stadium told to isolate immediately.
Melbourne remains on high alert after its surprise new Covid-19 cluster grew to nine, with mask restrictions back in place (pictured, a woman in Melbourne)
The infected case sat in Zone 4, Level 1 of the Great Southern Stand at the Punt Road end of the ground, with 23,000 spectators at Sunday night’s game.
Anyone seated in that area between bays M1 and M16 will be contacted directly by contract tracers and advised to get tested and isolate until they return a negative result, with all fans told to watch for symptoms.
‘Some individuals with the closest contact to the positive case will be directly provided more specific advice from the Department of Health. Others attending the MCG not located in these areas will be advised to check for symptoms and be tested if any develop,’ the alert states.
CCTV footage will be reviewed to determine if the advice to test and isolate will be broadened beyond these areas.
The Indian strain is considered by health officials to be equally as infectious as other mutant variants, including the dangerous UK strain.
Anyone seated in that area between bays M1 and M16 will be contacted directly by contract tracers and advised to get tested and isolate until they return a negative result, with all fans told to watch for symptoms (pictured, a seating map of the MCG)
‘It is by no means one to be complacent about,’ Victoria’s chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton said on Tuesday.
‘It is at least as infectious as the so-called UK variant.
‘It’s been called the double-mutant variant, in fact it’s got 15 mutations, two of which are a concern that relate to transmissibility.’
Leading expert Professor Sharon Lewin from the Doherty Institute expressed ‘a number of issues of concern’ with the latest outbreak in Melbourne – warning that the huge gap between an initial case in hotel quarantine and the new infections could lead to a lockdown.
‘First of all, it is nine cases with no new transmission for a long time in Victoria, and it is the Indian variant which we know is more infectious,’ she told ABC’s 7.30.
‘There’s also been quite a bit of a gap between where we think this came from, which was the initial quarantine hotel in Adelaide and now these cases are appearing with quite a significant gap so there is a lot of work to look at steps in between for those transmission events.’
An alert has been issued after an infected case attended the AFL game (pictured) between Collingwood and Port Adelaide at the MCG on Sunday
She hopes a ‘significant’ lockdown can be avoided.
‘There are lots of things that go into decisions around the lockdown but we have seen quite large clusters being managed really effectively and an example are the Northern Beaches in New South Wales back in December, that were done with really good and extensive contact tracing and some limitation of movement,’ she said.
Professor Lewin is also concerned about the low vaccination rate, with fears growing that not all Australians will be vaccinated by the end of the year.
‘Simply because… you need to get people vaccinated to prevent severe infection and hospitalisation and death,’ she said.
‘We don’t have enough people vaccinated.’
A snap lockdown hasn’t been ruled out by the acting Victorian Premier, who is standing in for Daniel Andrews while he continues to recover from a serious back injury following a fall on holiday.
‘This is a responsible step that we need to take to get on top of this outbreak. It’s about giving our contact tracers the time they need to track this matter down and get on top of it,’ Acting Premier James Merlino said.
Three Melburnians aged over-50 had not been vaccinated when they were infected. Pictured are Melburnians at a testing station on Tuesday
Meanwhile, Western Australia has introduced tough new restrictions on Victorian travellers declaring all new arrivals to the state must immediately self isolate.
The state government stopped short of closing its border to Victoria, but will require all arrivals from from 6pm on Tuesday to immediately get tested and self-quarantine until they receive a negative result.
Anyone who has visited any of the 24 exposure sites in Victoria during the relevant times are also required to get tested immediately and self-quarantine for 14 days.
Travellers from Victoria who have arrived since May 15 are urged to monitor their health closely and are warned they will be contacted by WA Police using the G2G Pass declaration system in place in WA.
Professor Sharon Lewin (pictured) from the Doherty Institute expressed ‘a number of issues of concern’ with the latest outbreak
EXPOSURE SITES IN MELBOURNE
Tier one; Anyone who visited the below sites must get tested and isolate for 14 days, regardless of the result
Woolworths Epping North, between 4:45pm – 5:45pm on May 22.
Jump! Swim Schools Bundoora, between 8:55am – 10:15am on May 21.
Nando’s Epping (Dalton Rd), between 8:30pm – 9:20pm on May 19.
Highpoint Shopping Centre, Maribyrnong, 5pm – 8pm on May 20.
McDonald’s, Clifton Hill, between 6pm – 7pm on May 22.
Nando’s, Epping (Dalton Rd), between 8:30pm – 9:20pm on May 19.
Smiggle, Highpoint Shopping Centre, Maribyrnong, between 5:55pm – 6:30pm on May 20.
Kidstuff, Highpoint Shopping Centre, Maribyrnong, between 5:20pm – 5:55pm on May 20.
Ishka, Highpoint Shopping Centre, Maribyrnong, between 5:45pm – 6:35pm on May 20.
Lush Cosmetics, Highpoint Shopping Centre, Maribyrnong, between 6:05pm – 6:35pm on May 20.
Toyworld, Highpoint Shopping Centre, Maribyrnong, between 5:30pm – 6:20pm on May 20.
Bamboo House, Melbourne, between 11:00am – 11:50am on May 21.
Tier 2: Anyone who attended the following sites at the times listed must get tested and isolate until a negative result or further advice
Futsal Brunswick, between 9:00am – 10:00am on May 23
Epping North Shopping Centre, between 4:45pm – 5:50pm on May 22
House and Party (store), Epping, between 5:15pm – 5:50pm on May 22.
Urban Diner Food Court, Pacific Epping Shopping Centre, 1:15pm – 2:30pm on May 23.
Shell Coles Express Reservoir, 3:15pm – 4:15pm on May 18.
B.T. Connor Reserve, 8:00pm – 11:30pm on May 21.
ALDI, Epping, between 6pm – 7:30pm on May 23.
Chemist Depot at Pacific Epping Shopping Centre. Epping, between 11:15am – 12:00pm on May 23.
Highpoint Shopping Centre (Levels 2 and 3), Maribyrnong, between 5:15pm – 6:35pm on May 20.
Adams Reserve Playground, Preston, between 2:15pm – 3:45pm on May 23.
ALDI Preston South, Preston, between 3:45pm – 4:25pm on May 23.
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan described the situation as ‘concerning’ as 18,000 travellers from Victoria have arrived in Western Australia over the past 10 days.
‘This is a rapidly evolving situation and things may well change,’ he said.
‘Given the unknown source of the current outbreak, and genomic sequencing confirming a link to the Victorian man who acquired the virus in South Australian hotel quarantine earlier this month, it is a very concerning situation.
‘It means there have been infectious people in the Victorian community potentially since May 15.’
Health workers conduct COVID-19 test at Northern Health in Epping on Tuesday as Victorians flocked to get tested following the new outbreak
Pedestrians queue at a Covid-19 testing station in Melbourne on May 25 as the city recorded new locally-acquired coronavirus cases in the community after an 86-day unbroken stretch of zero infections
The premier, who has become known for his tough stance on borders during the pandemic, made no apologies for the ‘extra precautionary’ measures.
‘I understand this may be inconvenient for some people, but we need to take this course of action to protect Western Australia,’ Mr McGowan said.
‘My government will take whatever action required to keep Western Australians safe.’
Genomic testing has determined Tuesday’s new cases are an Indian variant linked to the Whittlesea cluster in Melbourne’s north, with 168 close contacts identified so far.
The Whittlesea area includes the suburbs of Beveridge, Donnybrook, Doreen, Eden Park, Epping, Humevale, Kinglake West, Lalor, Mernda, Mill Park, South Morang, Thomastown, Whittlesea, Wollert, Woodstock and Yan Yean.
With fears growing the outbreak could quickly spread interstate, the Queensland government has also introduced some restrictions on travellers from Victoria, with the City of Whittlesea local government area declared a Covid-19 hotspot.
That means anyone arriving in the Sunshine State who has been in Whittlesea over the past 14 days will be required to go into hotel quarantine unless they have a valid exemption.
The new measures went into effect from 1am on Wednesday.
Deputy Premier James Merlino confirmed in a press conference on Tuesday morning a man in his 60s has tested positive, with the state’s cases from the latest cluster now sitting at nine
Commuters wear face masks in Melbourne on Monday, after it was revealed the state had identified new local Covid cases
New restrictions in Melbourne:
- Maximum of five visitors per household
- Maximum of 30 people gathering outside
- Masks must be worn indoors and on public transport
- People travelling from Melbourne to other areas must carry restrictions with them
- Schools and workplaces will remain open with the new restrictions applied
- Dancefloors remain open but people must wear masks while dancing
South Australia also imposed fresh border restrictions on Victorians from key sites linked to new Covid-19 cases.
The state will stop travellers who visited 24 announced locations in Melbourne from crossing the border, and anyone in SA who recently visited those sites must self-isolate for 14 days and get tested three times.
Less severe measures have been imposed for anyone who visited the City of Whittlesea, with those arrivals required to have a test within 24 hours and isolate until they receive a negative result.
South Australia’s Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said on Monday the cases were a reminder that even though Australia had done well in containing the virus, the potential for a significant outbreak remained.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the new infections are a stark warning to the community.
‘You can see how Covid can be transmitted in the community because it can be a mild disease and, therefore, go undetected,’ she said on Monday.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will not shut the border between the two states, but people travelling from Victoria to Sydney will be asked on arrival whether they have visited an exposure site.
A declaration form is also available on the Service NSW website and must be completed upon entry.
Authorities have also told anyone who has visited the Whittlesea area to avoid visiting aged care facilities or hospitals.
A fifth case of coronavirus has emerged as a result of the Whittlesea outbreak as a man aged in his 60s tests positive on Tuesday
Chief Health Officer Mr Sutton said the new case was symptomatic at the time of his testing and they are investigating another ‘intermediary’ link.
‘His initial recollections don’t overlap with any of the Wollert case’s exposure sites, so there’s no definitive link to that Wollert case even though we know that there’s a genomic link, so there may still be another intermediary,’ he said.
‘We need to explore that, but we need to finish the very lengthy, very detailed interview with that case this morning.’
He confirmed the case is from the Indian variant and said there could still be cases in the community.
‘It’s possible there’s another missing link out there,’ Professor Sutton said.
EVERY STATE AND TERRITORY’S BORDER RULES WITH VICTORIA:
From 8.25pm on Monday anyone who has been to City of Whittlesea local government area must be tested within 24 hours of arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result.
Anyone who visited a Covid-19 exposure site is prohibited from entering the state.
If anyone entered the state after visiting one of the venues, they must get tested, wear a face mask and isolate for 14 days.
The City of Whittlesea was declared a Covid-19 hotspot on Tuesday.
From 1am Wednesday, anyone who visited the local government area since May 11 will enter hotel quarantine unless they are a Queensland resident or have an exemption.
Anyone entering Queensland who visited Greater Melbourne in the last 14 days will be barred from entering prisons, aged care facilities, disability accommodation services and hospitals until a fortnight has passed.
From 1am Thursday, everyone arriving from Victoria will be required to complete a border pass.
From 6pm AWST on Tuesday, all arrivals from Victoria will be required to get tested within 48 hours and self-quarantine until they receive a negative result.
They will be barred from public transport and are forced to wear a mask.
Anyone who visited an exposure site must go into 14-day self-quarantine and get a COVID-19 test on day two and day 11.
New South Wales:
Anyone arriving in Sydney from Greater Melbourne is required to fill out a travel declaration form in the 24-hour period before entering the state.
Any arrival from May 10 who attended an exposure site at a time listed must contact NSW Health immediately.
Travelers from Whittlesea LGA are barred from visiting residential aged care facilities, or hospitals unless seeking medical attention.
Australian Capital Territory:
From 6pm Tuesday, anyone in or arriving in Canberra who visited Melbourne in the past 14 days must complete an online declaration form in the 24-hour period before entering the state.
Non-ACT residents who visited an exposure site are barred from entering without an exemption.
Anyone from Greater Melbourne that arrived in the fortnight up to May 24 who visited an exposure site must get tested and quarantine for 14 days.
The City of Whittlesea will be declared a high-risk area from 12.01am on Wednesday.
Anyone in Tasmania who was in the City of Whittlesea on or after May 6 is required to self-isolate immediately until they receive a negative result.
Travelers who visited an exposure site are barred from entering Tasmania if they do not have an approved exemption as an Essential Traveller through the state’s G2G PASS system.
Anyone who visited a tier-one exposure site must get tested and quarantine for 14 days regardless of the result.
Travelers who visited a tier-two site can stop quarantining once they receive a negative test result.
Anyone already in the NT must quarantine until they test negative and any new arrivals from greater Melbourne should monitor for symptoms and get tested immediately anything changes.