Crossroads Hotel COVID-19 cluster grows as NSW records more cases
Coronavirus cases have also emerged in other parts of the state, including Ballina on the North Coast, after a man flew in from Melbourne and later developed symptoms, and in Wollongong where a man in his 30s has contracted the virus from an unknown source.
Queensland Police on Thursday erected a 700-metre barricade on the Gold Coast in an attempt to stop people from known hotspots illegally crossing the NSW border.
From Friday tighter restrictions on pubs across NSW come into effect, limiting group bookings to a maximum of 10 people and capping the total number of patrons inside those venues to 300 in a government bid to prevent similar outbreaks from occurring.
Ahead of the pub crackdown, Mr Fuller, in a video broadcast to members of the police force, said if officers were confident in using their powers they should “feel free” to write tickets or prosecute people they believed were breaking public health orders.
“If you’re not [confident] then please feel free to continue to use the police operations centre (POC) and the operational commanders who are in the POC to get advice and guidance, but again we need to ensure that we don’t see additional spreads of the virus through bad behaviour,” Mr Fuller said.
The message represents a stark difference to directives given to officers at the height of lockdown measures earlier this year, who were told to exercise discretion where appropriate.
“Police are expected to educate, assist and protect the public,” one of a number of internal directives obtained by the Herald said. Police were also encouraged to seek legal advice before taking action.
In Thursday’s video Mr Fuller said: “We’ve taken a pragmatic approach but a fair approach to businesses, understanding that everyone’s under enormous pressure, but I think it is time that we start to issue tickets over using discretion.”
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said it was worrying to discover three cases of local transmission with no known source.
“Obviously we are concerned when we find cases that can’t be linked back [to outbreaks] because it does indicate that we’ve missed a chain,” she said.
“We will be re-interviewing cases and trying to ascertain any contact points and updating the community about additional actions.”
Dr Chant said several people in the Casula pub outbreak were “potentially quite infectious”, after revealing on Wednesday cases in the cluster were becoming infectious within one day of contracting the coronavirus.
Infectious disease experts from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee have looked at the case, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd said, who believe it was “unusual but not improbable”.
“We think it’s unlikely that the strain has changed,” Professor Kidd said.
While symptoms usually develop within five to seven days of infection, Professor Kidd said cases of people becoming infectious shortly after being infected were likely to happen as more people in Australia contract the virus.
Ten of the confirmed cases in NSW on Thursday were in the official reporting period of the 24 hours to 8pm Wednesday, and included four people in hotel quarantine, the three mystery cases and three cases linked to the Casula cluster.
Five other cases were confirmed after that period, including four more linked to the cluster.
Those cases included a teenage girl who attended Hurricane’s Grill in Brighton Le Sands on July 11 between 6pm and 8pm with another previously identified COVID-19 case who was infectious at that time. That venue was closed on Thursday for deep cleaning.
Another case was a man in his 30s who had been to Casula’s Planet Fitness gym. He is the third person to be infected at that venue, after a man contracted the virus at the Crossroads Hotel attended the gym. Planet Fitness was deep cleaned on July 12 but remains closed.
The remaining case was in a Victorian who flew into Ballina on July 12 on Jetstar flight JQ 466. Dr Chant said the person wore a mask during the flight and was screened at Ballina airport, but later developed symptoms.
The outbreak has also affected the courts. Jury trials in NSW will not resume in the Albury and Campbelltown District Courts on July 27, as planned, owing to the increase in community transmission in these areas.
While labelling the scale of Victoria’s second wave a “big setback”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was impressed by the speed at which contact tracers in NSW were tracking down cases related to the cluster at Crossroads.
“That demonstrates in NSW how effectively the states can respond to this,” he said on Thursday. “Hopefully we will see that situation continue to improve as well.”
But Dr Chant said this was a critical time for COVID-19 in NSW, urging people not to socialise if they had even the mildest symptoms. She reminded the community that family and friends were the people most likely to infect you.
“We have the impression that the people we’re associating with day in, day out, are safe and we might let down our guard,” she said. “Don’t have the perception that you’re safe in that environment.”
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard warned young people not to become complacent about the threat of coronavirus as they are often the least ill but “can be the most infectious”.
“[There was] a young bloke who had one of the highest infection levels we’ve ever seen. His viral load was capable of spreading to anyone near him,” Mr Hazzard told 2GB.
“The health tracers tell me young people get out and about in the evening, and they go to lots of places. If you’re sick, for heavens’ sake stay home. You’re putting everybody at risk.
“We really need young people to wake up, they can be extremely deadly to their elderly relatives.”
He said 40 per cent of coronavirus cases were found in 18- to 29-year-olds.
with Sally Rawsthorne and Michaela Whitbourn
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Angus Thompson is an Urban Affairs reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Rachel Clun is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.