Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Chief health officer Brett Sutton warns Victoria and Australia could see more cases

Victorians are bracing themselves after four new cases in Melbourne, one likely to be “quite infectious”, surprised a community and ended the state’s 87-day Covid-free streak. But it’s not just Victorians that need to worry, according to chief health officer Brett Sutton, who has warned Australians to risk further outbreaks over the colder months across the country.

In Melbourne, testing sites were open late on Monday night as officials raced to identify the origin of the new cases, warning there could be a “missing link”.

While the testing center’s opening hours were extended, 7 News reporter Melina Sarris said it took 45-minutes at her local site while on Google, searches for Covid tests skyrocketed.

A new list of potential exposure sites was announced overnight, including Nandos, Woolworths, and popular shopping centers, forcing thousands to isolate. Mr. Sutton said Victoria’s latest cluster wasn’t surprising considering, “we’ve barely gone a fortnight across Australia without some flag” and urged more Aussies to get vaccinated.

Two “likely” cases detected on Monday morning in Melbourne’s north have been confirmed as positive results. A further two family members have since tested positive, it was revealed in the afternoon. The four cases include a male in his 30s, another man in his 70s, a woman in her 70s, and a preschool-aged child from the Whittlesea area. The concerning source of the infection remains a mystery, but it is hoped genomic sequencing may provide some answers.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said there was currently nothing to link the family to Melbourne’s previous coronavirus scare, which occurred after a man became infected while he was in hotel quarantine in South Australia before flying into the city and returning to his home in Wollert earlier this month.

“The dates do not line up immediately, so we cannot rule out if there is a missing link out there,” he said. Traces of COVID-19 were picked up in wastewater in the Epping and Wollert areas last Thursday, almost three weeks after the city reported the positive Covid case of the man who became infected in Adelaide hotel quarantine.

In the meantime, Mr. Sutton warned the state could see more cases.

The first case was “likely quite infectious”, he said Monday, adding residents “have to ready ourselves” The concern is that the infectious man, who was displaying symptoms on May 20 but was likely contagious as early as May 18, had been out in the community for three days.

“The viral load was high, and with close contacts becoming positive, he is likely to be quite infectious,” Professor Sutton said. “There (was) not a huge number of close contacts, but we have to go through the interview process to identify anyone else.

“We have to ready ourselves for any other positives, and when there are close contacts who do become positive, that raises the possibility that even a casual contact could become positive as well. He pleaded with Victorians to “never be complacent” and warned, “we will always be at risk until we have high vaccination coverage”.

But he also warned the colder months ahead spell trouble for the entire country and that it will become “harder to prevent further cases” across the nation.

“The transmission potential will be greater now than it was when we spent more time outdoors, where we distanced better, where we wore masks more often,” he said.

“All of those behaviors are useful to remind ourselves and really try and do that again, especially in a couple of weeks ahead of us.” No new restrictions have been enforced, but more exposure sites are expected to be added to the list. Currently, the Jump! Swim School in Bundoora and the busy Highpoint Shopping Centre in Maribyrnong remain Tier 1 exposure sites. Officials warn to “get tested immediately and stay isolated until further notice”. A Woolworths and 7-Eleven are included in the Tier 2 sites.

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