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A “concerning” number of mystery Covid-19 cases in New South Wales is “akin to a smouldering forest fire” that could suddenly flare up, an epidemiologist has said.
Prof Alexandra Martiniuk, from the University of Sydney School of Public Health, said in the absence of sources for these cases, group events on New Year’s Eve should be ticketed, controlled and seated, and it would be essential for venues to keep good records of who attended.
On Monday the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, announced some restrictions around New Year’s Eve events in Sydney, but hospitality venues will be allowed to host patrons as long as they adhere to the one person per four square metres rule. People will not be able to enter a designated zone covering parts of the central business district, Circular Quay and North Sydney without a permit.
“Mystery cases are always concerning because we don’t know where or how they caught Covid, and this means there could easily be other people with Covid walking around undetected,” Martiniuk said. “This is all more concerning given the time of year with New Year gatherings looming, with indoor gatherings the most worrisome.”
She said there were some concerning scenes over Christmas, which risked further spread.
“In the northern beaches, I do not understand why council areas such as outdoor pools and parks are closed, yet indoor larger venues are open,” she said. “There are photos of large lines of people to purchase seafood on December 24 at malls, indoors, at least half of the people without masks, with lines lasting several hours. Continued packed indoor malls with Boxing Day sales are not in keeping with the safety measures in place.”
Masks are recommended but not mandatory in NSW.
In the past four weeks 10 cases with an unknown source have been recorded in NSW; six in the northern Sydney region, and four in other parts of the city.
Among these are a 20-year-old who worked at the Belrose Hotel, who may have been infected as early as 10 December; a case who attended the Belrose Hotel bottle shop on 17 December but who did not come into contact with the worker; and a firefighter working in Crows Nest who was at the Belrose Hotel on 11 December but was also not in contact with the worker.
Another case whose source of infection is unknown is a man in his 40s who worked in the central business district near the Chifley Square and MLC buildings while infectious. The source of infection in a man who attended the Paragon Hotel sports bar, also in the city, is also unknown.
A case in Bondi, in the eastern suburbs, is being treated as a positive case following the advice of an expert panel who reviewed the data on Sunday afternoon, as the case was initially suspected to be a false positive. The NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said on Monday that the panel “indicated that they can’t exclude a diagnosis in that case”.
“And so the case, as well as their contacts, will be in isolation, and we’ll be managing it as if it’s a positive Covid case,” Chant said. “We will be doing some further blood tests on that gentleman, and that will occur just again to help us clarify the diagnosis.” The source of that infection is unknown.
Authorities still do not know how the virus spread from hotel quarantine to the northern beaches, triggering the outbreak.
Martiniuk said in light of this, the number of tests conducted in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday – 15,300 – was too low.
“Testing needs to increase,” she said. “The more tests that are done, the easier we can find any current, undetected, spread.”
These comments were echoed by the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, on Monday.
“These tests are so important,” he said. “They play a fundamental role going forwards and if you can be tested, it might be an inconvenience, but it can ultimately protect your life and protect the lives of others.”
But Hunt said the situation in NSW had shown the “gold standard” of the contact tracing system there, with case numbers continuing to come down each day, and that overall testing rates had been high over the past few days combined.
A heat map of active Covid-19 cases by suburb shows there are several cases outside the northern beaches. These include three cases in postcode 2170 (Chipping Norton/ Casula), two in 2230 (Bundeena, Burraneer, Cronulla), four in 2021 (Centennial Park, Paddington, Moore Park) and four in 2767 (Bungarribee). There are 52 active cases in the northern beaches postcode 2107, which includes Avalon and Avalon Beach.
A professor of infectious diseases with the Australian National University, Peter Collignon, said with more than 120 community cases in NSW, it was unlikely the source of all of the mystery cases would be found.
But he said he was not yet alarmed.
“What would concern me is if we started seeing unlinked cases popping up, for example, in Blacktown or Liverpool that just appeared out of the blue, because that would suggest there has been community transmission in geographical areas well beyond the northern regions,” he said.
“My overall view is that New South Wales has so far found a good balance between imposing restrictions on people and keeping this under control.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: NSW warned mystery Covid cases could be ‘a smouldering forest fire’ | Health