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Western Australia has imposed a five-day lockdown in metropolitan Perth, the Peel region and the state’s south-west region amid fears a hotel quarantine worker who has tested positive to Covid-19 has contracted the highly contagious UK variant.
South Australia and Victoria shut its borders to the affected areas late on Sunday evening, and in other states and territories, WA residents were told to immediately go into self-isolation, potentially creating chaos in Canberra where MPs had flown in for the resumption of parliament this week.
The attorney general, Christian Porter, and the defence minister, Linda Reynolds, were told to go into quarantine until 9pm on Friday, after they landed in Canberra from Perth on Sunday evening.
The WA state premier, Mark McGowan, announced the “full lockdown” would begin at 6pm on Sunday, meaning residents could only leave their homes for essential grocery shopping, medical reasons, to care for the vulnerable, or exercise within their neighbourhood.
Schools were due to return on Monday but will now remain closed; masks will become mandatory during the lockdown; and venues including bars, pubs, clubs, gyms and places of worship will need to close. Restaurants and cafes will be limited to takeaway service. Elective surgery has also been suspended.
“This is a very serious situation, and each and every one of us has to do everything we personally can to stop the spread in the community,” McGowan said. “We have acted decisively and swiftly in these circumstances.”
“In effect, for a short period of time, we are going back to what we experienced in March and April of last year,” he added.
The hotel quarantine worker is in his 20s and contracted symptoms on 28 January. He reported his symptoms to his employer and did not work that day. Authorities believe he was infectious since 26 January.
The man is also believed to have worked as a rideshare driver.
The man’s three housemates have been taken to managed quarantine and could be expected to test positive in coming days, McGowan said.
“We don’t know how this security guard acquired the virus in the hotel,” he said.
But the premier said that based on current information “it appears possible that this new positive case has the highly transmissible new UK variant”.
Asked if restrictions would be lifted altogether or gradually after the five-day period, McGowan said it would likely be the latter and the disruption would go beyond the initial lockdown. Campaigning for the WA election would also be postponed, he added.
The lockdown will affect about 80% of the state’s population.
“We are hopeful it will be no positives, but then a gradual scale-down, I would expect,” McGowan said. “That is something we will take health advice on over the coming week.”
On Sunday afternoon Queensland and Northern Territory declared Perth and some surrounding regions a coronavirus hotspot, meaning anyone arriving from the area from 6pm on Sunday must go into 14-day quarantine – in a designated hotel in Brisbane or at the Alice Springs or Howard Springs quarantine facilities in the NT.
Queensland Health also announced that anyone who had travelled from metropolitan Perth, the Peel region and the south-west region since 26 January should be tested and isolate until they receive their result.
The NT announced that anyone who arrived in the state between 25 and 31 January from a declared WA hotspot must have a Covid test and self-isolate until a negative result is returned.
ACT Health asked anybody who had been to the designated areas in WA since 25 January to get tested for Covid-19 and self-quarantine until 9pm on 5 February, even after they had received their test results.
Travellers who arrived in New South Wales in the past week were being told to self isolate until Friday, with any travellers who have been at places of concern required to be tested and isolate for 14 days.
The dramatic news from WA came after an announcement that the trans-Tasman bubble allowing quarantine-free travel from New Zealand would resume on Sunday.
At a press conference confirming “green zone” travel with New Zealand could resume after a six-day suspension, Australia’s acting chief medical officer, Prof Michael Kidd, said authorities had determined flights were “sufficiently low risk” to lift restrictions.
Last week the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, had told her counterpart, Scott Morrison, she was disappointed by Australia’s decision, which came after an outbreak of the B1351 (or South African) variant that emerged from hotel quarantine in Auckland.
Today Kidd said there had been no further community transmission since those initial three cases.
“The [Australian Health Protection Principal Committee] has also noted that all close contacts of these three New Zealand cases have returned negative test results and there have been no further cases found to date in the casual contacts, in the previous residents of the hotel or in the staff of the hotel,” he said.
But Australia would insist on “pre- and post-flight screening implemented for all safe travel zone flights from New Zealand for the next 10 days”.
The checks would ensure travellers were not close contacts of the infected cases and that they had either not travelled in “contact tracing areas of interest” or received a negative if they had.
Kidd said those coming from New Zealand would need to have spent 14 days in the community, meaning time in hotel quarantine would not count.
“The measure has been introduced as an abundance of caution,” he said. “We are confident in the work that the New Zealand authorities have been carrying out.”
The reopening comes as NSW recorded 14 days without community cases (although fragments of the virus were found in sewage at three sites across Sydney), and 25 consecutive days without community transmission in Victoria.
However, on Sunday Victorian authorities were investigating an “indeterminate” test result.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said the average global rolling day average of Covid-19 had dropped from 700,000 on 10 January to 550,000.
“So that’s the first significant signs of dropping global cases,” he said.
“There is a lot more to go, and there will be ups and downs. But this is a sustained drop in global cases around the world, not just in one jurisdiction but in a number of jurisdictions.”
Hunt also announced up to 5,800 community pharmacies were being asked to help distribute the vaccine from May. They would be enlisted during phase 2A of the rollout when the vaccine will administered to people over 50 and to Aboriginal and Torres Islander people.
More than 2,000 general practitioners would be involved in the national rollout, which he said was “on track” to begin in late February despite recent export restrictions imposed by the European Union.
On Friday, the EU imposed sweeping powers that allowed it to block vaccine shipments from the bloc and Australia was left off a list of 120 nations exempt from the measures.
But after discussions with the EU and key vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and AstraZeneca, Hunt said he understood those measures were “not expected to affect Australia”.
“The guidance from the EU is provisional and preliminary at this stage, so I will remain cautious, but that guidance is that the EU regulatory steps are not aimed at Australia, and not expected to affect Australia,” he said.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Much of Western Australia goes into five-day lockdown after hotel guard tests positive to UK Covid variant | Health