Concern over new variant trend in Victoria's outbreak

·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

Victoria health authorities are worried about a new trend of "stranger to stranger" transmission while investigating Melbourne's latest Covid outbreak

One of the three new cases of Covid-19 revealed on Tuesday has been in the community as authorities work to determine the precise source of the infection, while the other two new cases tested positive while in hotel quarantine, Health Minister Martin Foley told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Fortunately, the aged care worker who worked at two different facilities before testing positive has so far not led to any more cases. 

Victorian Minister for Health Martin Foley addressing the media Tuesday. Source: AAP
Victorian Minister for Health Martin Foley addressing the media Tuesday. Source: AAP

"I'm also able to advise that all staff and residents at Blue Cross Sunshine aged care facility have tested negative other than that one case reported on yesterday, the crossover worker between Arcare Maidstone and Blue Cross Sunshine," Mr Foley said. 

There have been no more cases detected in aged care but concern remains over an unlinked case found in a worker on Sunday – a state of affairs Mr Foley labelled as "troubling".

Despite the good news, "there continues to be significant concerns around ongoing transmission,” he said.

“Particularly in our northern suburbs and many large exposure sites that have been added to the exposure site list over the last 36 hours.”

The state recorded nine new cases of community transmission and two further cases in hotel quarantine on Tuesday morning. However six of the cases were reported on Monday following positive results coming back after the midnight cut-off.

The latest outbreak stands at 54 cases. Genomic testing shows that all of them are connected to the leak in South Australia’s hotel quarantine system, the state's head of testing Jeroen Weimar, told reporters on Tuesday. 

However a connection to that original case remains unclear.

"We are absolutely clear that there is a missing link between this individual and the subsequent outbreak," Mr Weimar said.

Concern over transmission through 'fleeting contact'

Mr Weimar said that of the 54 cases about four or five have come from situations in which very little contact was had with a person who passed on the virus.

He cautioned on how transmission had occurred with "very fleeting" contact in public places.

“What we’re seeing now is people brushing past each other at the shops … they don’t know each other’s name,” he said.

“We are used to with previous variants … the transmission occurring in the home, in the workplace, where people know each other already.”

Victorian Covid testing chief Jeroen Weimar said they are seeing transmission between people with
Victorian Covid testing chief Jeroen Weimar said they are seeing transmission between people with "fleeting contact". Source: Getty

Mr Weimar attributed the trend to the more infectious Indian variant at the centre of the latest outbreak in Melbourne. 

"We think it is a feature of the Indian variant which is that much more contagious. But not with every person so we are seeing examples of people who aren't transmitting at all," he said. 

He urged people who have attended any exposure site to get tested and quarantine immediately. 

Questions remain about lockdown extension

The health minister would no be drawn on whether the lockdown would be extended but suggested the increased infectiousness authorites appear to be dealing with could prompt a longer lockdown.

"You have to take a decision based on the evidence that you have before you, and the evidence of the Indian variant is that it travels faster, and is more infectious, and we are starting to see that present itself," Mr Foley said. 

"That is one of a range of pieces of evidence the Chief Health Officer and his team will weigh carefully. As soon as a decision and recommendation to government is made, we will be letting Victorians know."

As of Tuesday, there were about 4,800 primary close contacts of people who have tested positive. According to authorities, about 75 per cent of those have now returned a negative test.

"That is an encouraging figure, we are certainly keeping up with a primary close contacts," Mr Weimar said.

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