A woman who contracted the mutant UK Covid strain has boarded a plane from Melbourne to Brisbane after being released from quarantine while the virus was still present.
The woman boarded Jetstar flight JQ570 arriving into Brisbane at 11pm on January 5 after she was released from hotel quarantine. She initially arrived in Melbourne from the UK on Boxing Day.
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said the woman, who initially left Melbourne after completing the required 10 days quarantine, wasn’t showing any symptoms as she travelled to Brisbane but had returned a positive Covid test once she returned home, sparking contact tracing.
“She lives in a house with her parents in the outskirts there of Maleny. We got her tested here yesterday and she is still testing positive, so that's why we are now following through with her contacts,” Dr Young told media on Saturday.
While Dr Young described the risk of spreading the mutant strain to others as “extremely low”, extra precautions were being taken because she is carrying the new variant, believed to be more contagious than other strains of the virus.
“With a normal variant, we would not be at all concerned. Ten days is more than sufficient and she is now up to day 15, so it would not be a concern,” she said.
“But because of this new variant, we are just being ultra cautious which is why we retested her when Victoria let us know that she had the new variant ... we found that she is still excreting [the] virus.”
Dr Young said passengers on the same flight who were seated two rows in front, behind and either side of the woman are being contacted.
Other passengers on the flight have been asked to monitor for symptoms, as well as locals from the Maleny area.
“As I stress, this is very, very, very low risk, but it is not zero risk, so we are just taking all of those precautions,” Dr Young said.
Victoria defends hotel quarantine release of Covid-infected woman
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley has defended allowing the infected woman to leave hotel quarantine, insisting she hadn’t shown any symptoms for more than three days, in line with Australian protocol.
"As our friends from Queensland have pointed out, that was totally in line with Australian and international protocols," he said.
Brisbane snap lockdown begins
The news comes as Greater Brisbane begins a three-day lockdown, with restrictions expected to be in place until at least 6pm on Monday.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced no new cases on Saturday, but cautioned the public to remain vigilant and get tested if symptoms appear.
“If you have any symptoms whatsoever, please go and get tested. Of course, we are doing this because of the highly infectious UK strain,” she said.
“We are monitoring the situation very closely over the next two days, especially as the Greater Brisbane region is now in this lockdown.”
Meanwhile, fragments of COVID-19 have been detected in sewage at four more Queensland sites: South Brisbane, Townsville, Hervey Bay and Maryborough.
"This does not mean we have new cases of COVID-19 in these communities but we are treating these detections with absolute caution," Dr Young said.
"A positive sewage result means someone who has been infected was shedding the virus. Infected people can shed viral fragments, and that shedding can happen for several weeks after the person is no longer infectious."
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