Fears new Sydney cases could spark restrictions

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In the wake of NSW announcing two new locally acquired Covid-19 cases in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, questions have been raised about whether this could spark a new wave of restrictions for Greater Sydney.

The cases include a man in his 60s and one of his household contacts.

Authorities are scrambling to determine how the man contracted the virus. He has not been overseas in recent times but does work as a driver, which includes transporting international flight crew.

“Urgent investigations into the source of the infection and contact tracing are underway, as is genome sequencing,” NSW Health said in a statement.

Multiple exposure sites have now popped up across Sydney, with contacts being urgently contacted and asked to isolate.

RELATED: States introduce new rules for NSW

The state’s last locally acquired Covid-19 cases were in May, when a husband and wife, who were also from the eastern suburbs, tested positive to the virus.

The infections prompted Premier Gladys Berejiklian to introduce a range of restrictions for Greater Sydney. These included:

• A limit of 20 people to private households

• Mandatory mask wearing for indoor places and on public transport

• No singing or dancing in indoor venues, including places of worship and entertainment venues

• A ban on drinking while standing in indoor venues

• A limit of two visitors per resident in aged care facilities

Genomic sequencing showed the likely source of the couple’s infection was from a returned traveller from the US.

However, authorities were unable to find the “missing link” between these cases, which was one of the main reasons behind the tightening of restrictions.

Authorities are now scrambling to find the source of infection for this new eastern suburbs case and track down any chains of transmission that may be going undetected in the community.

Burnet Institute epidemiologist Professor Mike Toole said the next 24 hours would hopefully provide critical information relating to this case.

He told ABC’s Patricia Karvelas that whether or not restrictions will be brought in and how long they are in place will depend on whether any more positive cases are discovered.

Professor Toole said if there is only a small rise in linked cases then authorities would likely “go fairly easy on restrictions”.

“But you get a number of cases arising from say, more than one of those exposure sites, and they may not be linked to each other, then I think we would have to consider stricter lockdowns,” he said.

“We know once you see this pattern getting a little out of control, you must go in quickly. And that usually leads to a short lockdown rather than the kind of dragged out lockdowns you have seen in places like the UK.”

Professor Toole also noted the man visited a lot of sites while potentially infectious, saying Victoria’s outbreak has shown how some of the more infectious variants can “spread very quickly through just casual contact one of those environments”.

How previous outbreaks played out

NSW’s last Covid-19 lockdown occurred just before Christmas last year, with a growing cluster sending Sydney’s northern beaches back under harsh stay at home orders.

The situation in the northern beaches escalated very quickly, with an alarming amount of “high risk” exposure sites, such as pubs and clubs, adding to the rapid rise.

This eventually forced authorities to send thousands of residents into lockdown over the Christmas and New Year period.

In total there were more than 150 cases linked to the cluster.

There was also another cluster in Berala, in Sydney’s west, that emerged at the time, the beginning of which shares some striking similarities to this new case.

The source of this cluster was revealed a man who drove international flight crews to and from Sydney Airport had tested positive to the virus.

The new case in the eastern suburbs also works as a driver, with part of his job being to transport international flight crews.

This revelation follows a late night alert from NSW Health on Tuesday after it was after it was discovered the virus had spread between three returned travellers.

Authorities are investigating the source of a Covid-19 case diagnosed in hotel quarantine which has an identical viral sequence to two cases who were staying in an adjacent room.

“It is currently unclear how and where transmission occurred from a couple to another returned traveller who were all staying on the fourth floor of the Radisson Blu quarantine hotel,” NSW Health said.

All three cases have identical viral sequences of the Alpha Covid-19 strain, formerly referred to as the “UK variant”.

The couple were asymptomatic and tested positive to the virus on June 3 during the second day of their hotel quarantine stay.

The other traveller returned a negative Day 2 test on June 3 before subsequently developing symptoms and testing positive for Covid-19 following on June 5.

All three cases arrived into Sydney on the same flight from Doha on June 1 and stayed in adjacent rooms in the quarantine hotel.

They were all transferred to the Special Health Accommodation following their positive test results, where they remain.

Health authorities are now scrambling to figure out exactly how transmission between these two parties occurred.

“Early possibilities as to where transmission may have occurred from the couple to the secondary case include on the flight, on transport from the airport to the hotel, in the lobby of the hotel, or while in quarantine,” NSW Health said.

“Currently, there is no evidence of further transmission.”

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