Thirteen new coronavirus cluster hotspots identified

NSW Health officials have revealed 13 coronavirus hot spots where testing has been ramped up amid concerns of local transmission. 

Director of Health Prevention at NSW Health, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, confirmed on Monday the state’s death toll had climbed to 18 following the death of two elderly men in Sydney.

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He also revealed the state has recorded 57 new cases, which was a drop on the previous day, although that's partly due to fewer tests being done on Saturday and Sunday.

Byron Bay is one of the 13 new areas where coronavirus testing will be ramped up. Source: Getty

While the drop in cases in recent days has been "really hopeful”, Dr McAnulty said “it is too early to make too many assumptions.”

Dr McAnulty said NSW Health would now encourage increased testing in those communities identified as having evidence of local transmission.

The 13 suburbs or towns on that list are: Waverley, Woollahra, Dee Why, Manly, Ryde, Macquarie Park, Broken Hill, Lake Macquarie, Manning Point, Nowra, South Nowra, Byron Bay and Port Macquarie.

While Bondi Beach, Bondi Junction, Bellevue Hill, Randwick and Mosman have already been identified as hotspots, officials are worried coronavirus is being transmitted within its neighbouring suburbs Waverley and Woollahra, which each have 10-19 cases, according to a NSW Health breakdown by postcode.

A map shows NSW COVID-19 cases for each postcode area. As at April 6 the Bondi and Bondi Beach area had the most infections in NSW.

Ryde and Macquarie Park, in Sydney’s northwest, have a reported 10-19 and 20-29 confirmed cases, respectively. 

Further north, Manly has 20-29 coronavirus cases, with coastal suburb Dee Why trailing with 10-19.

Lake Macquarie, just south of Newcastle, and Manning Point, near Port Macquarie, have a recorded 10-19 cases.

Port Macquarie has 10-19 cases. Popular tourist hotspot in the state’s north, Byron Bay, has one to nine confirmed cases.

Nowra, in NSW’s south, and the remote Broken Hill in the far west each have one to nine virus cases. 

Residents who live in any of the 13 areas and are suffering from the symptoms of coronavirus - cough, shortness of breathe, sore throat, fever – have been urged to get tested.

What brought these hotspots on?

People infected with coronavirus who initially don’t show symptoms, those who never developed symptoms or others who brushed off theirs as something else may be responsible for the concern for the aforementioned areas, Professor Dr Catherine Bennett, Inaugural Chair of Epidemiology at Deakin University, told Yahoo News Australia. 

It has been reported that a large portion of people who catch the virus have mild symptoms, while others suffer none at all but are still contagious. 

People observe social distancing guidelines at Manly Beach, another suburb where there is evidence of local transmission. Source: Getty

A recent study has shown people who have the virus can spread it to numerous others during a crucial one-to-three day period before they start showing symptoms.

“One thing we must remember is that we are seeing cases once they are reported and not when they first become cases, and for community unlinked cases there is likely to be an even longer lag time from exposure to illness to eventually getting tested than there was for travellers who were actively screened,” Dr Bennett said.

“Then there is another 3-4 days or so to get the results.”

The cases being reported now are the result of people being infected some weeks back, Dr Bennett said. 

People may have contracted the virus in Sydney before returning to regional areas before the lockdown of all the states, she said. 

If people who felt unwell isolated for the required 14-day period as soon as they became unwell, then these seen in the 13 areas might be just isolated cases, Dr Bennett said. 

“If they did mix with others in their local community, then we could have other undiagnosed or asymptomatic cases in those communities that we don’t yet know about. 

“So this is why self-isolation is so key for the next while, along with strictly observing distancing and hand washing, so that we don’t see more spread in the community,” she said.

Health officials have reported between 1-9 cases in Broken Hill. Source: AAP

What is the danger for hotspot communities?

Containing the spread within these communities and finding the sources of the infections is the next key step. 

“Given the lag from onset to testing, we can’t get complacent with the numbers as they improve and start to relax in our protective measures as if there are not still infectious people in the community,” Dr Bennett said.

“We will then see a rise in cases in another couple of weeks... when it’s too late.”

Those who have isolated while ill won’t pass it on to anyone else unless they’re in direct contact, so the virus will run its course in some households and then peter out, she said. 

'Equally we should not get alarmed if cases are in our local community; everything we are being asked to do to limit movement and contact is designed to protect us from just that... so this should encourage us to keep at it, and act as a reminder for the few who may have been a bit slack, to step up their game!”

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