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Sydney is in the grip of a new coronavirus outbreak centred on the northern beaches.
In the space of 36 hours, New South Wales has shifted from a 12-day period free from local transmission to the sudden emergence of 28 cases.
The burning question is: what was the source of this cluster?
There are several possibilities, and contact and genomic tracers are working furiously to find the direct transmission route and patient zero.
Although the route has not been established, we have learned much about the origins of the outbreak in the past 36 hours.
What do we know so far about the source?
Genomic testing tells us that the Avalon cluster, which comprises 28 cases as of Friday, is most likely a strain from the United States.
The genomic testing also suggests it is a similar strain to that found in a returned traveller who came to Australia from the US in early December, but went immediately into quarantine, as required.
We know that eight of the 28 cases linked to the northern beaches cluster attended the Avalon RSL on 11 December, 16 attended the Avalon bowling club on 13 December, and two cases attended both venues.
One woman had already travelled to Queensland before being told she needed to be tested for Covid-19. She was tested, began driving back to NSW, and was notified of a positive result during the journey.
NSW has dealt with similar outbreaks effectively in the past.
But the state’s chief health officer, Kerry Chant, said her concerns about this particular situation is that “we haven’t found the direct transmission route”.
In a separate situation, a bus driver for Sydney Ground Transport in Alexandria was also found to have contracted Covid-19 earlier this week. The driver transports international aircrews.
Tests of the driver’s close contacts have so far proved negative.
That strain was also linked to the US, suggesting he was infected by aircrews returning from abroad, though there is no evidence that the driver was the source of the northern beaches outbreak.
What else do we know about this returned traveller?
Preliminary investigations have found the genomics of the Avalon cluster are similar to a woman who returned from the US on 1 December.
That person is now in quarantine. She was initially a police-monitored quarantine hotel and became ill, so was transported to the NSW Health accommodation hotel.
The woman could not have travelled to Avalon because she had been in quarantine since returning from the US.
“The work is continuing to establish what that person’s connection may have been,” the health minister, Brad Hazzard, said on Friday. “There may be intermediaries, we don’t know if it is one, two, these are difficult issues for the tracers to work through but they are doing what they do and if we get more information we will let you know.”
Could patient zero have left the country?
Health authorities have not ruled out that Australian aircrews returning from abroad may be linked to the Avalon cluster, though it does not appear to be a focus of their investigation.
Several flight staff live on Sydney’s northern beaches and the NSW government has faced criticism for its flexible quarantine arrangements for aircrews, which effectively let them self-isolate at home with minimal monitoring. It has also emerged that aircrews have been breaching quarantine requirements and going out to Sydney venues, instead of staying in their hotel or home.
Hazzard said it was “possible” that an aircrew member was involved.
“We have been doing tracing and we don’t believe any of those aircrews are the source, but it is possible,” he said.
He said it was also possible that an international flight crew member was the source.
The government also used its press conference on Friday to announce a significant crackdown on quarantine arrangements for aircrews, saying they would now be forced to stay in two police-monitored hotels near the airport.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Coronavirus NSW: what we know about the source of Sydney’s northern beaches Covid cluster | Sydney