health

NSW student believed to be first case of Omicron community transmission


A school student in western Sydney is believed to be the first case of community transmission of the Omicron strain of Covid in Australia, as health authorities decide against shortening the interval period for booster shots.

The student from Regents Park Christian School is the ninth confirmed Omicron case in New South Wales. The source of the infection is unclear, as the student has not travelled overseas recently and has no links to any returned travellers.

On Friday, authorities confirmed two other Covid-positive students from the school were infected with the Omicron strain.

NSW investigates potential locally acquired Omicron Covid-19 case – video
NSW investigates potential locally acquired Omicron Covid-19 case – video

Students in senior grades have already finished for the year, however contact tracers are investigating if the Omicron variant has spread further and could be circulating in the community.

The NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, said “it would appear that the case could well be an on-NSW-soil transmission”.

“This is of concern to the extent that this is the first case that we know of that appears not to have had any travel history,” Hazzard said.

Amid concerns that Omicron could be spreading, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation determined that Australians will still have to wait six months after their second Covid vaccine dose to receive their booster.

Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said there was little evidence that bringing forward the booster shot would provide a greater level of protection against the new Omicron variant.

“Is (Omicron) more severe? We don’t know yet. But at the moment, there is the evidence that it’s mild or the same,” he said.

“I would stress that it’s very early days. It is only in the last few weeks this has been circulating in South Africa and elsewhere, and there is that delay from cases to hospitalisations and deaths.”

Kelly added that even the hospitalisation numbers from patients with the Omicron variant being recorded in southern African countries was “not any more severe than previous”.

The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said “it is too early to draw a final conclusion”. Hunt said that while “it may be more transmissible … vaccines are likely, still, to have good protection”.

There have been 10 confirmed cases of Omicron in Australia – nine in NSW and a 10th detected in the Northern Territory.

Also on Friday, the Northern Territory recorded its first death from Covid-19, as police start an investigation into the border breach that ignited the current outbreak.

The unvaccinated woman in her 70s from the Binjari Aboriginal community died about 11.30pm on Thursday in Royal Darwin hospital.

“This is a very hard day,” the chief minister, Michel Gunner, said. “This is the news we never wanted to give.

“While we are the last place in Australia to have one of our own succumb to Covid, it is very unlikely to be the last time we have to deliver such news.”

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Gunner said the woman was admitted to hospital on 20 November and had underlying health issues.

There are 60 cases in the territory’s current outbreak. The majority are Indigenous Territorians.

The fatality comes a day after the virus was detected in another remote community, with a 45-year-old man diagnosed in Lajamanu, 900km north-west of Alice Springs, near the Western Australia border.

The outbreak started when an infected woman illegally entered the NT in late October.

The 21-year-old lied on her border entry form before travelling from Cairns to Darwin after visiting Victoria, where she contracted the virus.

She infected a man in Darwin before the virus spread to Katherine, then the Aboriginal communities of Robinson River (1,000km south-east of Darwin), Binjari and Lajamanu.

Globally, more than 400 Omicron cases have been identified in 30 countries.



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