State on alert as family tests positive to South African COVID-19 mutation
“There are concerns that this South African strain does share a similar mutation from the UK that may be associated with increased transmissibility. That is why we are taking a very cautious approach there,” Dr Chant said.
The flight crew had already left Australian quarantine and had landed in Singapore by the time the family’s test results were known.
Singaporean authorities have been informed and all crew are undergoing testing.
South African authorities found the new variant rapidly became the dominant circulating strain, suggesting it is more transmissible.
Lab studies of the South African variant indicate the mutation changes the component of the virus the immune system responds to, which could mean antibodies are less effective against it.
Among the six people with the UK variant, two are still quarantined in Special Health Accommodation and four have been discharged after medical assessments deemed they were no longer infectious, Dr Chant said.
But on Friday the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee did not recommend barring UK arrivals.
“One of the challenges of just targeting one particular country or UK strain is that we are a world, international travellers go everywhere, and I think we have learned that with COVID, we cannot block a particular group at a particular point in time,” Dr Chant said.
“There will be mutations arising everywhere,” she said.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the new strains presented a challenge, “but getting variations, mutations to a virus is not unusual, it’s what happens … it’s not unexpected but of course from time to time a variation can occur that presents an increased risk. Other times it can decrease risks,” he said.
Concern over the virus variants and calls for tighter measures on UK arrivals have intensified since a Brisbane hotel worker tested positive for the UK strain on Thursday, sparking a three-day lockdown of the Queensland capital.
Acting Premier John Barilaro said NSW would not close its border with Queensland as Brisbane begins its lockdown.
Instead, he directed anyone in NSW who had been to Brisbane’s lockdown zone since January 2 to self-isolate until 6pm on Monday, January 11, in accordance with Queensland’s orders.
NSW recorded four new cases of locally acquired COVID-19 on Friday, in addition to seven cases in returned travellers.
Three local cases were already in isolation when they tested positive: a woman in her 50s and a teenage boy who were household contacts of a case in the Berala cluster, and a child who was a close contact of a case in the Croydon cluster.
Late on Friday night, NSW Health issued a new public health alert for venues in Sydney’s inner west and one venue on the northern beaches that had been visited by confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Anyone who attended the following Burwood venues at the times listed is a casual contact and must get tested immediately and self-isolate until they receive a negative result:
- Artisaint Cafe on Burwood Road in Burwood, on Wednesday, January 6, from 10.30am – 11am
- Bing Lee on Burwood Road in Burwood, on Wednesday, January 6, from 11.25am – 11.40am.
Other venues visited by people who should monitor for symptoms, and get tested if they occur, include Westfield Burwood Shopping Centre, Kmart Burwood, and Costume at Avalon Beach. Further details about the times of possible exposure and NSW Health advice to those who attended is available here.
The lockdown imposed on the upper northern beaches will be lifted at 12.01 on Sunday, despite health authorities’ reservations.
Their anxieties stem from the fourth case among Friday’s tally – a man in his 40s in the upper zone who tested positive for the virus after completing his 14-day self-isolation.
The source of his infection has not been found.
“That is a worry,” Health Minister Brad Hazzard said. “It would be an indicator of [an] unknown chain or chains of transmission still circulating in the far end of the northern beaches.”
But Mr Hazzard said the high testing rates on the northern beaches had given NSW Health confidence that the lockdown should end, and he urged the community to continue to get swabbed.
There were 26,112 tests in the 24 hours until 8pm on Thursday. Mr Barilaro said that number was on the low side and urged the public to come forward for testing over the weekend.
Sewage testing found fragments of the virus at a treatment plant in Ulladulla, about 64 kilometres south of Nowra, NSW Health reported.
No recent cases have been detected in the catchment area of 32,000 people across Ulladulla, Narrawallee, Milton, Mollymook Beach, Kings Point, Burrill Lake, Dolphin Point and Lake Tabourie.
“This could mean there are undetected cases of COVID in the community or someone with the virus visited the area, so we are asking everyone to be especially vigilant in monitoring for symptoms – and if they appear, get tested and isolate immediately,” NSW Health said.
Late on Friday night, NSW Health also said fragments of the virus had been detected in a sewage treatment plant at Northmead. The catchment takes sewage from Merrylands West, Greystanes, South Wentworthville, Merrylands, Westmead, Wentworthville, Pendle Hill, Northmead, North Rocks, Parramatta and Constitution Hill.
“NSW Health is aware of positive COVID-19 cases who live in this catchment but is asking everyone in the area to be especially vigilant in monitoring for symptoms, and if they appear get tested and isolate immediately,” NSW Health said said.
Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.