The hunt for the northern beaches’ COVID-19 cluster’s elusive patient zero17th January 2021
Airline and embassy staff are automatically exempt from hotel quarantine.
NSW Health would not disclose how many people in those categories were isolating at home on the northern beaches in the month leading up to the outbreak.
“Potential links to diplomats, aircrew and other people who may have had contact with international travellers have been investigated and no source of the Avalon cluster has been identified at this point,” a spokeswoman said.
She said all exit screening tests on people who had been self-isolating on the northern beaches during that period came back negative.
“Questions around reciprocal arrangements with foreign governments overseas should be directed to the Commonwealth government,” she added.
Federal Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly has previously expressed confidence that the northern beaches strain derived from a female traveller in hotel quarantine who arrived in Australia from the United States on December 1.
However, authorities remain at a loss as to where the quarantine system broke down, allowing the virus to seed across the northern beaches, trigger devastating Christmas lockdowns and jumping borders into other states.
“The source of the Avalon cluster remains under investigation,” a NSW Health spokeswoman said.
The Herald can reveal the three earliest cases all became symptomatic on the same day: Thursday, December 10.
In the beachside suburb Avalon, a woman in her 60s and a man in his 70s – dubbed a “classic Avalon couple” by an anonymous official because they were divorced but living together – began feeling unwell.
At Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, 22 kilometres away, a 20-year worker from the Belrose Hotel went to bed feeling feverish. He woke up fine the next day.
The fresh timeline provided by authorities indicates the Avalon couple waited for several days after developing symptoms to be tested, in addition to then failing to isolate until they received their results on December 16.
Genomic testing has confirmed all three cases were infected with the same strain, even though authorities have not identified any epidemiological connection between them.
Authorities suspected a gym-goer could be the missing link.
The two earliest exposure sites were the Anytime Fitness gyms at Avalon and Belrose, which both had alerts dating back to Sunday, December 6.
Authorities cast the net back, asking people who attended the Avalon gym during the last week of November to come forward for testing in an attempt to flush out the index patient.
“Although Anytime Fitness in Avalon was an exposure venue, it was also investigated for any possible source links to the Avalon cluster,” the NSW Health spokeswoman said.
“Therefore people who attended on additional earlier dates were advised to seek testing.”
Both gyms declined to comment when approached by the Herald last week.
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Carrie Fellner is an investigative reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.