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Authorities are urgently investigating how a Qantas crew member contracted Covid-19 after arriving in Darwin from Paris and then flying to Sydney without being tested or quarantined.
New South Wales, Northern Territory and federal health authorities are working with Qantas to understand how the man, who landed in Darwin on 17 December after working on a repatriation flight from Paris, became infected.
The case has again drawn attention to the relaxed rules for aircrews arriving in Australia, as officials acknowledged he was not required to undergo testing for coronavirus at any stage of his journey.
Under the special health provisions extended to Australian flight crew workers, the man was allowed to leave the overseas flight, use a private car to go to a regular, non-quarantine hotel in Darwin, where he spent one night before flying on the QF841 Darwin to Sydney service on 18 December.
While he was self-isolating at his Sydney home, he began experiencing mild symptoms on 20 December and took a Covid-19 test. He has since been moved to government-managed quarantine accommodation.
The NSW chief health officer, Kerry Chant, announced the Qantas worker had tested positive at a press conference on Wednesday morning.
She sought to dampen concerns about future flight crews bringing in the virus, reiterating new rules NSW introduced from Tuesday requiring all arriving crews “to have a swab”.
Qantas medical director, Dr Ian Hosegood, said the worker entered self-isolation in line with government-approved protocols at the time, but noted his movements would not be possible under the new NSW rules.
“I spoke to him last night and again this morning and thankfully he has only mild symptoms and is generally feeling well,” Hosegood said.
“The crew member did not have symptoms when operating the repatriation flight or when travelling on the domestic sector, and was wearing a mask throughout both flights, so the risk of transmission is low. The domestic flight occurred more than 48 hours prior to symptom onset,” he said.
Qantas has provided a list of passengers and crew who flew on the Darwin-to-Sydney flight to health authorities for contact tracing purposes.
Hosegood said the man was the first Qantas crew member to contract Covid-19 since late March.
The NT health minister, Natasha Fyles, said she learned about the new case on Wednesday morning, and that because of a pre-approved “strict management plan” in place for aircrews, the man did not have any interaction with the community in Darwin.
“What we’ve been told is that under the CHO [chief health officer] directions, there was a strict management plan, there wasn’t interaction with the community, and also this individual was not infectious, it’s believed, when they were in the Northern Territory,” Fyles said.
“This is someone that was on those commonwealth repatriation flights and the large majority head on that same plane back to their state where they’re based, but in some situations they do exit under [the approved management plans] … and may go to another port,” she said.
Asked about approving plans for aircrews not to quarantine when arriving in the NT, Fyles said “we need to be realistic” in making sure rules for aircrews allowed airlines to continue running repatriation flights and services bringing freight to the Territory.
The Qantas crew member’s diagnosis follows a positive case in a worker who drove international aircrews between Sydney airport and their hotels.
Last week, NSW police revealed they had issued $1,000 fines to 13 South American crew members who left their hotels and went to businesses in Mascot, next to Sydney airport, earlier in December.
Under new quarantine rules for airline workers in NSW introduced on Tuesday, international aircrews will be accommodated in two designated hotels in Sydney. Police will ensure the crews remain in the hotels until they leave for their return flight.
However, Qantas aircrews who live in NSW and have arrived after an international flight are not required to quarantine in the hotels, and are still permitted to self-isolate in their homes. Crews are tested for Covid-19 upon arrival in Australia.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Australian health officials scramble after Qantas crew member tests Covid-positive | Australia news