Mutant strain confusion; NSW issues restriction-easing ultimatum

Days after it was revealed six cases of the UK variant were linked at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, the state’s top cop said environmental swabbing of the hotel had been completed. Commissioner Katarina Carroll said swabs had been taken of “the service area where the staff work, the walls, materials in the hotel, etc.”“This will be subjected to extensive testing by Queensland Health,” she said. “It is a lengthy process, and we will make sure that we interrogate every aspect of what occurred in that hotel.”
Queensland recorded two new cases of COVID-19 in hotel quarantine on Friday, as well as one historic case.

It comes days after the Hotel Grand Chancellor was evacuated, after authorities discovered two returned travellers had somehow infected four others linked to the facility.The 129 guests who were quarantining at the time, as well as 226 staff and some previously released guests were put into an additional 14 days isolation to combat any further outbreaks. The vast majority have since tested negative. Despite a three day lockdown last weekend, the state’s chief health officer said she was increasingly confident the virus had not leaked into the community. “I am getting increasingly comfortable that have had not had community spread,” Dr Jeannette Young said. Two returned travellers from Ghana, a hotel cleaner and her partner, and two other returned travellers from Lebanon have all been linked to the Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster. Queensland Police have interviewed three of the six infected people, and CCTV footage is being examined, while infection analysis continues. The cases appear to be linked to floor seven, however the Hotel Grand Chancellor did not have CCTV on that floor. As a result, commissioner Carroll said a CCTV audit of every hotel used to quarantine had been ordered, with police set to install technology in facilities where it is lacking.

While the investigation remains ongoing, questions over the handling of returned travellers allowed to leave the facility remain. The Courier Mail revealed on Thursday that two people in hotel quarantine, a woman and her father who had returned from Lebanon, left the facility just hours before testing positive for a mutant strain of COVID-19.The woman accompanied her father to hospital, and after previous speculation the woman had returned to the hotel via taxi, Queensland Health confirmed she had been in full PPE and transported in an ambulance. Commissioner Carroll said extensive independent inquiries had been undertaken, and that nothing was awry. Dr Young said people were moved out of hotel quarantine to hospital “every single day”.As a result of rising concerns over returned travellers, Ms Palaszczuk will take a proposal to national cabinet to move the state’s facilities to regional mining camps. “We need to have these options on the table because, as we know, there’s a lot of this UK strain circulating at the moment and we need to make sure we have the best lines of defence here in Queensland to combat this virus,” the premier said.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said 10,820 tests had been carried out in the last period, and none of the cases announced today were of concern.Dr Young said the historical case was a man in Cairns who had returned from the Congo in September and tested negative while in hotel quarantine. A recent test result came back positive. Dr Young said that would explain why there was “persistent shedding” detected in Cairns sewage.
NSW PREMIER CALLS FOR MORE TESTING AS ZERO CASES RECORDEDNSW has marked its second day of zero community cases, marking the first time the state has recorded two consecutive day of no cases since December 15.However, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said testing rates “are not where we’d like them to be”.More than 16,000 turned out for testing up to 8pm Thursday.The Premier warned the state government won’t have the confidence to ease restrictions unless testing numbers increase.But government officials are in the process of “considering” what restrictions can be eased, particularly around weddings, mask wearing, and the number of people allowed in households.
VICTORIA’S COVID PLAN FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTSThe Victorian government is developing plans to allow international students to enter the state.
The Australian
reports the state government is expected to take to national cabinet on February 5 a scheme that would increase the number of international arrivals, and create a separate entry quota for international students.It comes amid fears from the higher education sector that reduced international arrival caps announced following last week’s national cabinet meeting would dash hopes of international students returning before the middle of the year.The reduced caps hope to stop more cases of the highly contagious UK strain of COVID-19 from entering the country, but International Education Association chief executive Phil Honeywood said if foreign students were not able to return for semester one the sector could lose $8 billion.“With current international students moving on to post-study work visas and others dropping off, we’re looking conservatively at a $8bn hit to tuition fees this semester for the year,” Mr Honeywood told The Australian.
NED-2170 How coronavirus mutates

RADICAL PLAN TO KEEP UK STRAIN OUT OF AUSTRALIAWA Premier Mark McGowan is renewing his push for remote commonwealth facilities to be used for quarantining returned travellers in a bid to stop the spread of the highly contagious UK variant of COVID-19.Mr McGowan said other measures had recently been undertaken, including halving the number of international arrivals and masks at airports, following concerns about the British strain.“We need to constantly review and constantly update,” he told reporters on Thursday.“I’m more than happy to have another conversation with the federal government about the use of remote commonwealth facilities because those facilities are there and they are available and there are experienced staff that can deal with these matters.”One of the locations the Premier wants to use is Christmas Island.“Clearly with the British strain that’s something we should reconsider,” he said.However, Mr McGowan said quarantining travellers at tourist hub Rottnest Island, as was previously done, was not a consideration.

Six people are quarantining at home in WA because they had been at the Grand Chancellor Hotel in Brisbane, which has been evacuated after testing found six cases linked to the UK strain of COVID-19.They have so far all tested negative for the virus, and the Premier said their close contacts were being monitored daily.“They will be further tested, obviously, as time goes by,” he said.Mr McGowan said the situation in Queensland was “inexplicable” and showed the British strain was very worrying.“We don’t want it to get out into the community,” he said.“No one can guarantee that a mistake won’t be made or that somehow it gets in, but we’ll do everything within our power to prevent it.”Mr McGowan said he would get further health advice about whether there were any other measures required to combat the UK strain.WA recorded two new cases of coronavirus overnight — both are men in hotel quarantine.It brings the state’s total number of confirmed infections to 881, including 17 active cases.

NED-1859 State of our borders
NSWVisitors or residents of NSW who have been to Brisbane will be made to self-isolate, officials have announced. The move came after Queensland announced a three-day lockdown of Brisbane, which will begin at 6pm Friday. NSW will make anyone who has been in Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Moreton Bay, and Redlands from January 2 self-isolate.
A $200 on the spot fine will apply if you do not comply with the requirements to wear a face mask.Children aged 12 and under are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks where practicable.Places where face masks must be wornYou must wear a face mask indoors when you enter or work at*retail or business premises that provides goods or services to the public including*supermarkets*shopping centres*banks*post offices*hairdressers.*residential aged care facilities (visitors, not residents).Premises that are used for the purpose of providing health services are not retail premises or business premises.Face masks are also mandatory when you are using public transport or are a passenger in a taxi or rideshare vehicle when you are waiting at a public transport waiting area (such as a bus stop, train platform or taxi rank) for all staff in hospitality venues and casinos for patrons using gaming services.SOUTH AUSTRALIAFrom midnight Friday January 8, anyone coming into SA from greater Brisbane will be required to quarantine for 14 days.SA Premier Steven Marshall announced a hard border closure to NSW on January 1.He said there will be few exemptions for those returning after 12.01am on Friday, but SA residents, people permanently moving states and essential travellers will be permitted.All those groups will still need to self-isolate for 14 days.
Travellers returning to the state will need to demonstrate they met the criteria upon crossing the border.He said people travelling from Queensland to South Australia must follow the most direct route through NSW and not spend “unnecessary time” interstate.
Mr Marshall said a 100km buffer zone will be implemented for cross-border communities, allowing people in Broken Hill and Wentworth to freely enter the state.“We’re also going to be putting some transit allowances because there are people travelling through NSW who won’t be stopping,” Mr Marshall said.Mr Marshall said border arrangements with Victoria would not change.VICTORIAVictoria introduced a border permit system on Monday, January 11.The traffic light-style system permits travel from “green zones” (no quarantine required) and “orange zones” (travellers required to be tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result).You are not allowed to travel to Victoria if you are from a “red zone” — presently, Greater Brisbane, and Greater Sydney including Wollongong and the Blue Mountains.You can find out more here.

NORTHERN TERRITORYThe NT declared Greater Metropolitan Sydney a COVID-19 hotspot from midnight on New Year’s Eve, meaning anyone travelling from there must enter quarantine.The NT had previously declared only seven Sydney suburbs hot spots.

QUEENSLANDQueensland, which had already declared Greater Sydney a hotspot, is assessing the situation as it unfolds.Chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said on Thursday she was closely monitoring the New South Wales cluster and the new Victorian cases.“I’m urging Queenslanders travelling to these states to reassess their plans – if it is not necessary, then consider staying here,” she said.“The next 24 hours are critical for Victoria and the NSW cluster is growing daily. Queensland is in a good position right now because we acted quickly to declare greater Sydney a hotspot.”

WESTERN AUSTRALIAWestern Australia has introduced a hard border with Queensland, which will take effect from midnight on Friday, January 8.Western Australia has already shut its border to NSW travellers but on Thursday said it will close to Victorian travellers too.From 12.01am on January 1, only exempt Victorian travellers will be allowed into WA, while returning residents must self-isolate for two weeks.Anyone who arrived in WA from Victoria on or after December 21 must also self-quarantine for 14 days.TASMANIATasmania has declared nine Victorian sites as high-risk COVID-19 areas including restaurants, clubs, churches, shopping centres, hotels, and bars.People in Tasmania who have visited are asked to self-isolate and contact the public health line on 1800 671 738.Non-Tasmanians who have been in the areas in the specified times cannot enter Tasmania without an exemption.It has measures in place requiring travellers from Greater Sydney to quarantine.More details on travel alerts here.AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORYNon-ACT residents are banned from entering the territory if they have travelled from hot spots, unless granted an exemption. That means all nonresidents who have been in Greater Sydney, the Central Coast or Wollongong local government areas will be refused entry at the border.ACT residents have to sign an online declaration form before returning then quarantine for 14 days.

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