Hotel mutant strain cluster triggers testing rush
The HOTEL Grand Chancellor cluster of the highly contagious UK COVID-19 variant has triggered one of Queensland's biggest days of testing during the year-long coronavirus pandemic.
In the 24 hours to Sunday morning, 19,152 samples were analysed for the pandemic virus, numbers only topped over three consecutive days in late August during the detention centre outbreak.
Queensland's latest COVID cluster, responsible for a "short, sharp, shock" three-day lockdown in Greater Brisbane, stands at three cases at the Grand Chancellor, an inner-city quarantine hotel.
They include a man in his 30s, who had recently travelled to Queensland from Ghana, and his partner. Both of them had been in quarantine at the Grand Chancellor.
In the first case of the virus escaping hotel quarantine in Queensland, a casual cleaner working at the Grand Chancellor has also been confirmed as having the infection, leading to extraordinary measures to prevent the variant taking hold.
It's the first time in Australia someone with a known case of the UK variant has been in the community while infectious.
A joint health-police inquiry is ongoing into how the hotel quarantine breach occurred, but former Queensland Chief Health Officer Gerry FitzGerald speculated the cleaner, in her 20s, may have come into contact with contaminated surfaces.
"With a highly infectious virus, it could well have just come from surfaces she was cleaning," said Professor FitzGerald, based at QUT's School of Public Health.
"We know the virus can live on surfaces for some time.
"It could well be she's picked it up from surfaces and just made errors. People make errors in infection control just by taking their mask off the wrong way and things like that."
His successor as Chief Health Officer, Jeannette Young, said how the cleaner, one of six cases of the UK variant identified in Queensland since late last year, developed the virus may never be known.
"We need to … work through how this occurred If we can find out, so that it doesn't happen again, if anything has happened that we can stop," she said. "We've got to remember, this is a very contagious virus, even before the new variant.
"Other states have had multiple situations where they have had the virus escape from their quarantine hotels, and in most cases they've not been able to find out how they occurred. We are looking as hard as we can."
Dr Young praised the young cleaner for working through the night with contact tracers after she tested positive so that public health alerts could be issued as soon as possible.
In updated advice yesterday, she urged Queenslanders who may have travelled with the woman from Altandi railway station to Roma Street at 7am on January 2, or from Central Station back to Altandi at 4pm the same day, to come forward for testing, regardless of whether they have symptoms.
"Individuals shouldn't be making the decision whether or not they are a close contact. They should come forward and then the public health people will make a decision. That is critical," Dr Young said.
Apart from the cleaner, four Queensland cases of the UK variant have been detected in hotel quarantine and the sixth case was a woman in Maleny, on the Sunshine Coast, who was diagnosed with coronavirus in Melbourne and isolated there before being allowed to fly to Brisbane on flight JQ570 at 11pm on January 5. Genome testing later identified she had the UK variant.
Although testing in Queensland found the woman to still be positive, and Sunshine Coast residents have been alerted to come forward if they develop even mild symptoms, her risk to the community is said to be "extremely low".
Australian Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly yesterday praised as "extraordinary" high rates of COVID tests across the country with 73,000 performed in Queensland, NSW and Victoria during the previous 24 hours.
Prof Kelly said Brisbane's snap, hard lockdown would serve as a case study for health officials across the country.
He said officials walked a tightrope around restrictions because if they slapped them on too quickly, it could be "incredibly inconvenient" but if they were too slow it risked "not having the full effect".
"Let's see what happens in this Brisbane experience," he said. "That may give us some clues. Once you limit people's mobility, it is a challenge."
For information about testing sites and public health alerts: health.qld.gov.au
Originally published as Hotel mutant strain cluster triggers testing rush