Shocking new twist in case of Perth's patient zero

Olivia Lambert
·News Editor
·5-min read

The patient zero who sparked a coronavirus outbreak at the Mercure quarantine hotel is believed to have contracted the virus while in India for his own wedding.

Perth and Peel were plunged into lockdown over the weekend after two 'local' transmission cases were traced back to a Perth Mercure hotel used for quarantine. 

The West Australian reports patient zero of the outbreak is a man who flew to India in December for a wedding before returning with his new bride on April 10. 

According to the publication, he tested positive three days after returning. His wife then contracted the virus and three others staying in the hotel became infected after the virus seeped into other rooms. 

The three-day lockdown was due to end at midnight on Monday, however West Australians are on edge as they await news as to whether it will be extended or not. 

A general view of the Mercure Hotel Perth in Perth.
Patient zero sparked an outbreak in the Mercure hotel in Perth. Source: AAP

People are outraged the man was allowed by the federal government to travel to India for the wedding despite an international travel ban in place. 

"Why was patient zero in Perth's latest coronavirus outbreak allowed to return from India after being given an exemption to travel there for a wedding?" 4BC radio host Scott Emerson tweeted. 

"Think of all the weddings and funerals that have been missed here in Australia."

Another said the travel exemption was granted despite tens of thousands of stranded Australians struggling to get home.

"I just do not understand this prioritisation," he said.

A third claimed the federal government was "incompetent".

"They let someone travel to India for a wedding and I am now in lockdown because of this decision. Allowing non-essential travel and not arranging suitable quarantine solidifies their incompetence," they said.

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Yahoo News Australia has contacted the Department of Home Affairs for comment but a spokesperson told the West Australian it does not comment on individual cases.

A spokesperson from the Australian Border Force (ABF) also said it does not comment on individual cases, but shed some light on the decision making process.

"Travel exemption requests are assessed and decided with reference to criteria in place at the time of the decision," the spokesperson said.

"Exemptions to travel to a high risk country are now only approved in very urgent circumstances, such as to assist with the COVID response, those seeking urgent medical treatment for a critical illness that is unable to be treated in Australia, or where travel is in Australia’s national interest.

"The ABF Commissioner or authorised decision makers continue to consider requests for travel on a case-by-case basis. Requests need to include sufficient evidence to support the request."

Last week, the federal government cut repatriation and direct flight arrivals from India by 30 per cent.

Stopping all flights from India could be an option if health authorities advised the move was necessary.

Government slammed over hotel outbreak

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan criticised the Commonwealth for allowing so many people to leave the country during the pandemic

"Many of the people who are COVID positive are people who left Australia recently and went to COVID-laden countries, I'm just not copping that," he said.

"That people recently went to India and come back COVID positive, and then we have incidents like this occur, and then somehow the Commonwealth says that's OK. It's not OK.

"If you want to go overseas, it should be for only the most extraordinary of reasons at this point in time. Not to go overseas for a wedding. Even to go overseas for a funeral. We have to be a lot tougher in relation to letting people out of Australia."

WA Premier Mark McGowan speaks at a press conference.
WA Premier Mark McGowan plunged Perth and Peel into a three-day lockdown. Source: AAP

The head of the doctors' association in Western Australia has slammed state and federal governments for persisting with "faulty" hotel quarantine.

Australian Medical Association state president Andrew Miller said innocent people who were arriving without coronavirus were being infected in quarantine.

Dr Miller described the system as an abuse of human rights.

"The issue is that hotel quarantine isn't fit for purpose," he told ABC radio on Monday.

Dr Miller said federal experts were being "grossly negligent" and urgent change was needed.

"Hotels cannot be made safe for COVID-19 positive people," he said.

"Governments need to put money into building mining camps - I'm told it can be done within a couple of months.

"And put everyone into N95 masks tomorrow. It's all low-hanging fruit, frankly."

State's call for change to hotel quarantine

The WA state and federal government are in open warfare over who is responsible for hotel quarantine.

WA Premier Mark McGowan wants the federal government to open military bases and Christmas Island to quarantine overseas travellers.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton has pushed back against the idea, saying such facilities are not fit for purpose.

"Mark McGowan has made a mistake," he told ABC's Insiders program about the WA government's use of a Perth Mercure Hotel where the virus spread among quarantining guests.

"Nobody is being critical of him for that. He doesn't need to be defensive. He doesn't want to be the next Dan Andrews where they had significant problems," he added, referring to Victoria's long lockdown last year.

Christmas Island was used in March and April last year for people returning from China and Japan.

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