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How did we learn about the cluster in South Australia?
On Sunday the state’s health department announced four cases of Covid-19. While one of the cases is a returned traveller in hotel quarantine, three cases were found in the community. This is concerning because it is the first case of community transmission in South Australia since 16 April.
The cluster was identified after a woman in her 80s tested positive for the virus at the Lyell McEwin hospital emergency department on Saturday. Contact tracing began, with two of her family members testing positive.
One of these two family members – a woman in her 50s and a man is his 60s – works in a medi-hotel, the name given to SA’s quarantine hotels. Authorities are working to confirm this is the cause of the cluster using genomic sequencing. Both of those family members are now quarantining in a medi-hotel.
SA’s chief public health officer, Nicola Spurrier, said on Sunday she was concerned because the cases were members of a large family, raising concerns that a large cluster may emerge. By Sunday afternoon a fourth case had been identified, who authorities said was another close family member, and an employee at Yatala labour prison in Adelaide’s northern suburbs.
What are the latest developments?
By Monday morning the cluster had grown to 17. Of those, 15 were linked to the same family. More than 100 people have been ordered to self-isolate by health authorities while contact tracing is under way.
SA’s premier, Steven Marshall, told radio 5AA on Monday morning: “It is a very dangerous situation that we’re in here in South Australia at the moment, and it’s really going to require the cooperation of every single citizen for us to get on top of this.”
He urged people to come forward for testing if they had been in an identified hotspot, or if they have any symptoms.
“Time is of the essence, and anybody, anybody who has got symptoms, don’t put off going and getting yourself tested,” he said. “I think many South Australians might have been becoming complacent over recent weeks.”
The state’s education department announced that Mawson Lakes school and preschool would close on Monday for a minimum of 24 hours, due to a student being a close contact of a confirmed case. The closure was “out of abundance of caution”, the department said. Thomas More college in the northern suburbs also announced on Facebook it was closed.
Anyone who was in the Lyell McEwin hospital emergency department between 5.30pm on Friday 13 November and 4am on Saturday 14 November has been ordered to self-quarantine.
Authorities also asked anyone who had been at Parafield Plaza Supermarket on Thursday 12 November between 10.30am and 11.30am to get tested if they develop symptoms. All staff working at quarantine hotels have been ordered to undertake mandatory testing every seven days.
Additional locations of concern, including bus interchanges and restaurants, were added late on Monday morning, with the full list available here.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said on Monday he had been briefed by Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, and resources had been offered to boost the state’s contact tracing system.
“We are standing up the national incident centre contact tracing capability to assist South Australia, we have offered them the ADF [Australian defence force], and if more is required, more will be provided,” Hunt told ABC news.
“But these are the sorts of challenges that if we trade or engage with the world, if we bring Australians home, we will face, in a world where there’s over half a million cases a day. Having these strong testing, tracing and isolation systems are absolutely critical.”
How are other jurisdictions responding?
Western Australia has maintained the toughest rules for people entering the state since the pandemic began, but from midnight on Saturday it reopened to “low-risk” states, deemed as those with at least 28 days in a row with no community transmission. This means travellers from Victoria and New South Wales are still required to self-quarantine for a fortnight and to take a coronavirus test on day 11.
On Sunday at 5pm the WA government announced that anyone arriving from South Australia would also be required to enter self-quarantine for 14 days and undergo testing.
On Monday the Northern Territory chief minister, Michael Gunner, declared SA a hotspot and said any arrivals from the state could either undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine or return to SA.
Tasmania’s premier, Peter Gutwein, said: “Anyone who has arrived in Tasmania from South Australia since last Monday 9th November, we would like you today to immediately self-isolate.
“If you are in a home residence, isolate there. If you are staying in accommodation, to go back to your hotel room and isolate there.”
But the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said her state’s border would remain open for now: “You can’t shut down the border and disrupt lives every time there is an outbreak.”
New clusters to be expected until a vaccine is rolled out
An infectious diseases physician and microbiologist, Prof Peter Collignon, said the SA outbreak did not surprise him because of the highly infectious nature of the virus and the lack of a vaccine.
“This is why I have concerns about using the word ‘elimination’ even in states like South Australia where there was months without cases,” Collignon said. “When you use that word, people believe it’s gone.
“But until the end of next year at least, when the vaccine will likely have been rolled out, we need to continue measures such as avoiding crowds, limiting numbers of people indoors, physical distancing, hygiene and testing – or people will become complacent.”
Collignon said workers at quarantine and medi-hotels should wear personal protective equipment. “I have seen photos from these hotels of workers only wearing masks, but they should at least be wearing a face shield and a mask together,” he said.
“However, South Australia has had good procedures at least in the main hotel they use for quarantining, but despite that, these outbreaks are always a risk. We need to behave as though that risk is always there until a vaccine is rolled out.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: South Australia coronavirus cluster: what we know so far | South Australia