Coronavirus NSW: Expert’s dire fears if 'wrong person' infected

Tom Flanagan
·News Reporter
·4-min read

A leading epidemiologist believes Sydney’s current level of community transmission has the potential to explode, making it near impossible to curtail the spread of coronavirus.

Professor Tony Blakely, an epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, says whether Sydney’s current clusters develop into a crisis similar to Melbourne’s or worse is simply a matter of chance and dependent on who contracts the virus.

“If the next person who got it in NSW was a super spreader who came in contact with another super spreader, it would be game over,” he told news.com.au.

Super spreaders can pose a bigger threat to society than others due to a number of factors.

How infectious someone is, the locations they visit and their behaviours all play a role in determining whether someone is a super spreader.

Scores of people walk along Bondi's promenade on Sunday. Source: AAP
Scores of people walk along Bondi's promenade on Sunday. Source: AAP

For example, someone who is highly infectious and rides multiple buses to get to their workplace of 20 people without wearing a mask is more likely to become a super spreader than someone who walks to work wearing a mask and makes a conscious effort to social distance with the two people they work with.

Prof Blakely believes Melbourne’s hotel quarantine debacle was fuelled by super spreaders, with those infected in facilities then taking it home to large families that mixed with others.

He said it was vital NSW learned from what was happening across the border, with large families needing to stay apart to ensure the state can control its current community transmission.

In the past nine days, NSW has recorded more than 10 locally acquired cases per day seven times.

The state has not seen similar levels of infection for more than three months.

And while that has some now fearing the imposition of similar restrictions as those in Melbourne, Prof Blakely believes that NSW’s aggressive contact tracing appears to be working for now.

Evidence of that came on Monday when all of the 16 locally acquired cases detected in the previous 24 hours had known links to previous cases, as NSW’s Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant revealed.

Focus needed on big hospitality venues, expert says

Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an epidemiologist at the University of NSW who is a World Health Organisation advisor, told Yahoo News Australia the state must reduce the number of super spreading environments to help bring transmission down.

She identified clubs and large hospitality venues as breeding grounds for the virus, and suggested NSW should consider shutting them down for seven days to curb the growth.

“They are the focal point for people to meet – particularly in outer suburbs and regions,” she said.

“The social venues are an important part of life and seem to have been in the middle of July, a super spreading opportunity because the virus loves people having social times inside.”

One of the state’s more concerning clusters is the one associated with the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club on the NSW south coast.

Eight cases are linked to the club which has hundreds of visitors daily in a community that is made up of an ageing population and frequented by tourists.

NSW announced a further 13 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 10 people associated with an outbreak at the Thai Rock Restaurant in Stockland Mall at Wetherill Park.

Another two new cases were associated with the Crossroads Hotel cluster in Casula, which has risen to 50 cases.

NSW Health is urging anyone who visited the Salamander Bay Shopping Centre on July 15 to watch for COVID-19 symptoms following a confirmed case in the Port Stephens area.

The new case is a man in his 60s, who was infected by a visitor from Sydney.

The Sydney contact also visited the Windsor Castle Hotel in East Maitland between 6pm and 8pm on July 13.

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