'Major concerns': Shock test results show virus 'risk' to Australia

Nadine Carroll
·4-min read

The Queensland Premier has called on the Federal Government to do more to assist Papua New Guinea's worsening Covid-19 situation after a frightening positivity rate emerged from the island nation to the state's north.

Until now PNG had been able to avoid mass spread of the virus due to its relative isolation and border controls, however Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on Monday out of 500 Covid tests Queensland Health assisted with in PNG recently, half returned positive results.

Ms Palaszczuk said there were "major concerns" over the recent spike in confirmed cases and revealed she would reach out to Prime Minister Scott Morrison to coordinate a response.

Annastacia Palaszczuk at a press conference
Annastacia Palaszczuk said there were 'major concerns' over recent test results in Papua New Guinea. Source: AAP

"We have been assisting with some tests in Papua New Guinea and out of the 500 tests that our health authorities have done for Papua New Guinea, 250 were positive. This is a real concern," the Premier said at a press conference this morning.

"Papua New Guinea is on the doorstep of Queensland and I hope that I will be able to speak to the Prime Minister or Prime Minister's office in the next 24-hours just to talk about our concerns there."

A recent surge has taken PNG to more than 2,000 official Covid-19 cases, with grave concerns due to the country's severe lack of healthcare infrastructure and healthcare workers.

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea's capital, has seen an uptick in cases. Source: Getty
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea's capital, has seen an uptick in cases. Source: Getty

'Right on our doorstep'

Ms Palaszczuk suggested the federal government look into rolling out a vaccination program in PNG as fly-in-fly-out mining workers are among those returning to Australia and testing positive for the virus.

"Maybe we need to look at a vaccine rollout program there as well. It is right on our doorstep and it is a real risk," the Premier said.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Sonya Bennett was unable to confirm how many active cases there are in PNG but revealed two of the six positive cases announced in Brisbane hotel quarantine today had returned from the island nation.

Brisbane virus cluster

Three coronavirus cases in Brisbane have been linked by genomic sequencing as the Queensland government tries to track down more than 200 guests who left a quarantine hotel where an infected patient stayed.

Ms Bennett said laboratory analysis shows a guest at a Grand Chancellor transmitted Covid-19 to another guest in a separate room and later to a doctor at the Princess Alexandra Hospital between March 5 and March 9.

"Whole genomic sequencing is what we call a match between the three cases," she told reporters on Monday.

"So one of the first cases in the hotel quarantine, the healthcare worker and then a subsequent case that was reported two days ago at the Hotel Grand Chancellor."

Ambulances are seen lined up outside the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane.
A guest at a Grand Chancellor hotel transmitted Covid-19 to another guest in a separate room. Source: AAP

Dr Bennett said it's uncertain how transmission occurred at the hotel, which was previously shut down due to an outbreak in January.

At that time four guests, a cleaner and later her partner became infected, but there were no CCTV cameras on the floor where the transmission occurred.

"We know we've seen this before, we know that some people are highly infectious, and that is likely the case in this instance, and can transmit the virus through very little exposure," Dr Bennett said.

"So there's a lot of work ongoing - we now have CCTV footage in that hotel that will be reviewed, we'll interview various people and try and understand how a transmission event occurred, but in the meantime, the main thing is also to manage the public health risk."

Authorities are tracking down about 206 guests who finished quarantine at the hotel and left between March 5 and March 9.

Queensland Health is also testing 272 contacts of the doctor and 160 staff at the PA Hospital, but 86 have come back negative.

The PA remains in lockdown and all hospitals, aged care and disability facilities in the Greater Brisbane area are closed to visitors, and masks must be worn inside them.

Dr Bennett said it was unnecessary to extend the lockdown to the wider city at this stage.

"At the moment we don't perceive there's a risk out in the community," she said.

There are 38 active cases in the state on Monday.

with AAP

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