Victoria Covid-19: one ‘super spreader’ could be responsible for Melbourne spike in cases, government says | World news


Victoria has announced 66 new cases of Covid-19 as the state’s health minister revealed Melbourne’s wave of new cases could potentially be traced back to a single “super spreader” of the virus.

“On Tuesday, I received a briefing of a genomic sequencing report that seemed to suggest that there seems to be a single source of infection for many of the cases that have gone across the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne,” the minister, Jenny Mikakos, said on Friday. “It appears to be even potentially a super spreader that has caused this upsurge in cases.”

The premier has previously stated that a significant portion of new cases are linked to breaches in the hotel quarantine system, which is now the subject of judicial inquiry.

“We don’t have the full picture yet,” Mikakos said.

“Not all of these cases have yet been subject to genomic sequencing. We need to enable that process to be completed and to be provided to the judicial inquiry in the fullness of time.”

Deputy chief health officer Annalise van Dieman said the possibility of a “super spreader” was one of several possibilities.

“This is a possible epidemiological theory about one of the things that may have caused this outbreak. There is not an identified super spreader at this point in time. It is one of the options, one of the possibilities, looking at the data,” she said.

“We don’t have definitive evidence that it has been a single super spreader. What we have [is] evidence that the current outbreak is possibly looking more like what we call a “point-source outbreak”, where there was a tapering off of cases and then now the cases have gone up … One of the possibilities that can do that is a person who is particularly infectious who attends multiple areas or multiple places.”

On Friday, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said he was tentatively encouraged by a fourth day of stable case numbers.

“While it may be too early for us to be talking about trends, a day with 66 is obviously far preferable to seeing a doubling and then a doubling again … certainly, to see these numbers relatively consistent is very pleasing,” he said.

Andrews declined to answer questions relating to his role in the decision by the government to use private security contractors rather than police or the Australian Defence Force to run hotel quarantine.

“I’ve not established a judicial inquiry chaired by a very well respected and highly qualified person to stand here and try to run her inquiry for her,” he said. “I understand why questions are asked – the best way to answer those questions is to have a rigorous review, then provide a report with findings, with recommendations … I am the leader of this government and I’d take responsibility and have accountability for these and all matters.”

More than 95,000 hotspot homes have now been knocked as part of the community testing blitz, but Miakaos said that “disappointingly” more than 10% of people have refused testings.

“That might be for a range of reasons, including that they may have already been tested in a different location,” she said.

“We are analysing that data to see exactly why people are refusing, but it is concerning that some people believe that coronavirus is a conspiracy or that it won’t impact on them, so what I want to stress here is that coronavirus is a very contagious virus. It can go through your family very quickly, it can affect your neighbours, your loved ones and your entire community.”

Additional cases were added to the Al-Taqwa college cluster in Truganina, bringing the total to 23. The entire school, including all staff and students, have now been asked to quarantine for two weeks.

Cases were also added to the Stamford Plaza cluster and the Albanvale primary school cluster, along with additional close contacts from the Orygen youth mental health facility and the Villa Bambini childcare centre in Essendon.

Mikakos highlighted four postcodes with the highest rates of active cases as of Thursday night. These were 3,064 (Craigieburn, Donnybrook, Mickleham, Roxburgh Park and Kalkallo) with 52; 3,047 (Broadmeadows, Dallas, Jacana) with 25; and 3,060 (Fawkner) with 11.

The fourth postcode was 3031 (Flemington, Kensington), which is currently not a designated hotspot, but the deputy chief health officer said authorities would not be announcing further lockdowns today.

“Any single day’s worth of data or cases in isolation is not necessarily going to be enough to cause lockdown or not,” van Dieman said. “We’re going to looking at trends week by week and trends not based just on absolute numbers but also rates, as the premier mentioned.”

The deputy chief health officer was asked on Friday why a NSW man who tested positive in Melbourne hotel quarantine was not tested a second time before being released and returning to Sydney.

“There is a standard set of release from isolation criteria that is agreed upon nationally and it is consistent … When a patient has had more than 10 days since the onset of symptoms, including 72 hours being symptom- and fever-free, they are released from isolation and clinically declared to be released from isolation,” she said.

“The reason that doesn’t include a clearance test is because people can shed this virus, weeks to months, and the shedding virus is not the same as being infectious.”

Van Dieman said she was confident the man did not pose a public health risk.

“The man met the criteria and stayed for another two days on top of having the criteria because he was in hotel quarantine. He would have been released from any hotel quarantine in the country based on the criteria, including any hotel in Sydney with a person coming from Melbourne.”

The NSW government has isolated more than 50 workers at the Balmain Woolworths supermarket, where the man worked while still displaying some symptoms. The NSW chief health officer, Kerry Chant, said it was unlikely the man was still infectious.

On Friday the ACT moved to make it a requirement that anyone travelling to the territory who is believed to have been in a hotspot must quarantine for 14 days at their own expense or return home immediately.

As national institutions reopen to the public in Canberra, the territory government has issued a new public health direction.

Anyone already in the ACT who has been in a Melbourne hotspot has been told to quarantine for two weeks, even if they do not have coronavirus symptoms. This is the first time during the pandemic that the ACT has closed its borders to anyone from Victoria.

People coming into Canberra from Melbourne must monitor themselves for signs of the virus and passengers on inbound flights must show identification on arrival. Anyone who refuses to comply will face fines.

Canberra residents have been told not to plan any visits to the Melbourne suburbs under a reinstated coronavirus lockdown, and to reconsider all non-essential travel to the city for the foreseeable future.

On Friday Andrews also announced a boost to funding for mental health care in order to support those in hotspot suburbs.

“I can announce today just under $2m in additional funding, on top of the just under $60m we have already provided for targeted and localised mental health support for those who are really doing it very, very tough,” he said. “That extra funding will go to mental health service providers and mental health support, with a real focus on those hotspot suburbs.”

On Friday Mikakos stressed it was permissible for residents in hotspot suburbs to leave their home to seek mental health support.

Andrews made a point of thanking the more than 300,000 people now in lockdown in the 36 hotspot suburbs across the city.

“You are making enormous sacrifices – it’s about your safety of course but it’s also about the safety of the entire state. And I can’t say how grateful and how proud I am to think that people in those 10 postcodes are following the rules, are doing the right thing. From my government to you, for my family to yours, I say thank you. Thank you so very much.”