No Melbourne lockdown as missing links to COVID-19 cluster sought after cases balloon to four, Highpoint Shopping Centre listed as exposure site24th May 2021
Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait said he suspected the new cases were linked to the department’s exposure-site mix-up, and he was concerned authorities could have missed the opportunity to stop transmission.
“The biggest concern is that the virus has been silently brewing,” Professor Rait said.
Deakin University epidemiology chair Catherine Bennett said it was possible several people could have contracted the virus between May 6 and May 8 – while the Wollert man was still in the community – then became infectious themselves and spread COVID-19 further.
“There are probably one or two more cases, but equally, there could be other cases that have already been exposed,” Professor Bennett said. “They might be incubating the virus or could have already started to spread the virus,” she said.
Burnet Institute epidemiologist Mike Toole said the only way to explain the gap between the Wollert case arriving in Melbourne and the cluster of four that emerged on Monday is that there was at least one intermediary case.
“There’s a link that is missing,” Professor Toole said.
Highpoint Shopping Centre in Maribyrnong, in Melbourne’s west, and the Jump! Swim School in the northern suburb of Bundoora have been added to the list of primary exposure sites after two men, a woman and a child from the Whittlesea area tested positive to the coronavirus.
The Health Department is also expected to list Epping Plaza as an exposure site because one of the new positive cases had visited there while infectious.
Professor Toole said Highpoint posed an elevated risk of transmission because it was indoors; people often stood close together in queues for the cashier; there were many shared amenities such as escalators, toilets and lifts; and even browsing in a shop close to somebody posed a heightened risk of infection.
He said the risk of transmission at the swimming school was dependent on whether the positive case was outside or indoors.
“If it was indoors it might be a problem if the ventilation is not so good, there’s a lot of humidity and people are sitting there for a couple of hours while their kids have a swimming lesson,” he said.
Health Minister Martin Foley said one of the newly detected COVID-positive men had flu-like symptoms from about last Thursday and was tested on Sunday, along with an asymptomatic male relative.
Both those men, aged in their 30s and 70s, tested positive and a further two people in the family, a pre-school-aged child and a woman in her 70s, have since also been confirmed as COVID-19 cases.
The new cases are the first confirmed incidences of community transmission in Victoria in almost three months.
Professor Sutton, said one of the new cases had a high viral load and was “likely to be quite infectious”, given three other family members already tested positive.
“Obviously we have the positives and they were the immediate close contacts, and there were not a huge number of close contacts but we have to go through that interview and reinterview process to identify anyone else,” he said.
“We have to ready ourselves for any other positives and when there are close contacts who do become positive, that raises the possibility that even casual contacts could become positive as well.”
Professor Sutton said he believed the child who tested positive was part of a swimming class at the Jump! Swimming School on May 21.
He said health authorities did not know yet how many close contacts were at the premises when a positive case was at the school.
Mr Foley said there did not appear to be any connection between the latest coronavirus cases and hotel quarantine, but the public health team was working through the secondary contacts to rule out the possibility.
He said authorities did not believe any of the new cases worked in high-risk industries.
“After nearly three months of no community transmission, a degree of complacency has settled in. This is a reminder to all Victorians … this is not over,” Mr Foley said.
“We are a long way from herd immunity in Victoria and Australia.”
He said Victoria would not be subject to stricter COVID-19 provisions as health authorities wait for more information about the movement of the four confirmed cases.
“Victorians have sacrificed more than anyone else, and we have learned a lot about the distribution of the virus,” he said.
“What we want to do is get the best possible epidemiological picture as to where cases are, where their contacts are and then work out from there.
“As further information comes to hand, the evidence will determine our response.”
Professor Sutton said authorities were not considering forcing those in the City of Whittlesea to wear masks outside their homes, because the virus could not be constrained geographically.
He said major changes to COVID-19 rules, such as wider mask-wearing mandates, should “really happen across the board”.
The cases come after the Health Department admitted on Friday that it had named the wrong supermarket as an exposure site when COVID-19 was confirmed in the Wollert case.
The department has since blamed an electronic banking transaction for the mix-up.
Authorities had listed the Woolworths at Epping, when it should have been the Woolworths at Epping North.
Mr Foley tried to explain how the error occurred during an interview with the ABC on Saturday.
He said contact tracers had been given an electronic transaction receipt from a banking app that indicated the at-risk individual shopped at the Epping Woolworths.
“Upon review of the evidence and re-interviewing the primary close contacts involved, the receipts from what turned out to be Epping North Woolworths nonetheless said on the receipt Epping Woolworths,” Mr Foley said.
“Given that Epping Woolworths is right across the road from another established exposure site, the conclusion was drawn from the public health team that it was in fact Epping Woolworths.”
Initially, people who visited Woolworths Epping during a one-hour period on May 8 were advised to get tested and isolate.
With Ashleigh McMillan, Sumeyya Ilanbey Nick Bonyhady
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