NSW tightens hotel quarantine protocols; Masks to remain mandatory ‘for foreseeable future’
NSW will start managing cases of COVID-19 among overseas travellers differently in light of the new COVID-19 mutations around the world, Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant has announced.
The announcement was made on Saturday morning, as the state reported one new locally acquired case of coronavirus, linked to the Berala cluster. The state also recorded five cases in hotel quarantine, from about 25,500 tests.
"As the Premier indicated, we are seeing the emergence worldwide of a number of strains, and with travel, they are no longer the UK strain or the South African strain. We live in a global world and so all returning travellers are at increasing risk of having one of these mutations which need to be investigated," Dr Chant said.
"Some of the mutations are associated with increased transmissibility, and obviously we need to be vigilant for other impacts of the viruses as they change. This is a normal part of the evolution. It is what we expect virus to do, but it is important that we therefore take a very precautionary approach."
COVID-19 patients will not be released from isolation until at least 14 days after their symptom onset, and they will get tested at the end of their isolation period.
"It is important to note that some people still can have remnants of the virus for a long time, so we will use an expert panel to ensure we are not releasing cases that are infectious and that will require more intensive testing if anyone still remains [positive]," Dr Chant said.
"It is important to remember with the sensitivity of our tests, there are people where we can detect very low levels of virus fragments that don't present a risk."
Dr Chant said NSW Health was also going back and following up on returned travellers who had the virus.
"We have identified one case that has been tested and does still show remnants of the virus," she said. That case had been to a number of venues around Burwood in Sydney's inner west," Dr Chant said.
"We are taking a precautionary approach by announcing some of the venues that that person attended."
She said it was essential that the state maintained high testing rates over the next week in particular.
"We are aware that some people are still out there with symptoms who aren't getting tested. As we are in this critical phase of mopping up any undetected chains of transmission, it is essential that people get tested," she said.
"I know I've been asking you for many weeks to come out and get tested, but if we could have a real push over this next upcoming week to maintain those high levels."
How long will mask use continue?
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has confirmed that mask use will continue "for the foreseeable future".
"We know from previous experience that when you do have a super-spreading incident, it tends to be in one of the high-risk indoor venues, whether it is inside a supermarket, a hospitality venue or inside the home. So the health advice is mitigating the risk of the high-risk indoor settings, which is what we've done. Until [the high alert] has subsided, we will continue.
"As we've said consistently, we don't want to put any unnecessary burdens on our citizens unless we have to. If there is an opportunity to ease the restrictions we will, but we also have to assume that given the variants in the virus coming through, that there will be situations where we might need to tighten or even strengthen those [restrictions].
"At this stage we believe the current settings are appropriate for the risk that is pose. If we get health advice to say that they are now more comfortable with the community transmission levels, we can revert back to the previous freedoms we had, which we don't have today."
Ms Berejiklian also thanked the northern beaches community for their compliance and patience over recent weeks, as authorities prepare to lift the lockdown on that area at midnight.
But she asked all people in Greater Sydney and NSW to continue maintaining the level of restrictions in place, "until the current threat level is reduced".
"There are now variants to the strain of the virus. It is important for us to learn as much as we can during this time," she said.
"We have to assume that this strain will become the dominant strain and it is important to keep re-assessing our settings, keep staying vigilant and for the immediate future keep wearing our masks in those indoor settings."
New health alerts
Late on Friday night, NSW Health issued a new public health alert for venues in Sydney's inner west and one venue on the northern beaches that had been visited by confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Anyone who attended the following Burwood venues at the times listed is a casual contact and must get tested immediately and self-isolate until they receive a negative result:
Artisaint Cafe on Burwood Road in Burwood, on Wednesday, January 6, from 10.30am – 11am
Bing Lee on Burwood Road in Burwood, on Wednesday, January 6, from 11.25am – 11.40am.
Other venues visited by people who should monitor for symptoms, and get tested if they occur, include Westfield Burwood Shopping Centre, Kmart Burwood, and Costume at Avalon Beach. Further details about the times of possible exposure and NSW Health advice to those who attended is available here.
Mutant strains detected
It comes a day after Dr Chant revealed 10 new cases in hotel quarantine with more infectious lineages of the COVID-19 virus – six with the UK variant (known as B.1.1.7) and four with the South African iteration (B1.351).
On Thursday night, a NSW Health lab detected the B1.351 variant in PCR samples from four family members who had recently flown in from South Africa.
Further testing is underway to confirm the cases, but as a precaution all 16 passengers who shared their flight from South Africa to Sydney have been moved to Special Health Accommodation, where all COVID-positive travellers are quarantined.
Among the six people with the UK variant, two are still quarantined in Special Health Accommodation and four have been discharged after medical assessments deemed they were no longer infectious, Dr Chant said.
More to come
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