health

Sydney quarantine worker tests positive to Covid as Queensland investigates three cases


A Sydney hotel quarantine worker who tested positive to Covid-19 overnight had already received their first dose of the vaccine.

The new case is a 47-year-old man who works as weekend security guard at the Mantra and Sofitel hotels, and holds an office job during the week. It was detected in the NSW government’s pre-shift saliva testing on Saturday night and confirmed early Sunday morning.

It comes as Brisbane residents are anxiously waiting for the test results of more than 200 close contacts of a doctor at Princess Alexandra hospital, who contracted the virus after treating a returned traveller with the UK strain of the virus.

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard said the man was vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine on 2 March, and was due to get a second dose in the next week or two.

Chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said it took an estimated 12 to 14 days for the Pfizer vaccine to result in a stronger immune response, “and sometimes you need two doses to get the optimum immunity and that is certainly the case for Pfizer”.

But she said it was theoretically possible that because the man was vaccinated he will have a lower viral load which could reduce the chance of onward transmission.

Chant said it was believed the man caught the virus while working a night shift at the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth from 7pm on Saturday 6 March to 7am on Sunday 7 March. He has not shown any symptoms.

Authorities have identified 130 close contacts who worked the same shift with the man on Friday night, and are also testing everyone who worked at the same Sofitel shift last weekend. Genomic testing and a review of hotel CCTV are underway.

Three venues – Bexley aquatic centre from 9am to 9.30pm on Saturday, Pancakes on the Rocks at Beverley Hills from 10.45am to noon on Saturday, and a train from Hurstville to the city arriving at 6.30pm on Friday – have been identified as “low-risk” exposure sites.

“This gentleman does have another workplace, and we are just looking at that,” Chant said. “The advice we have had is generally that person resides in an office-based setting, but we are checking with various key cards and other things to track the movements and identify the potential contacts.”

Hazzard said he was “relatively relaxed” about the incident, saying the surveillance testing did its job.

Earlier, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it would take two more days for the test results of all 238 people identified as close contacts of the doctor, including 61 hospital staff, to return a test result. So far the woman’s three closest contacts have returned negative tests.

Palaszczuk said another case reported late on Saturday was “likely historic and unconnected to the PA hospital”, but investigations are continuing.

The newest Queensland case is a traveller in hotel quarantine, who was staying on the same floor of the Hotel Grand Chancellor as the patient believed to have infected the doctor.

Queensland’s deputy chief health officer, Dr Sonya Bennett, said investigations were under way to determine whether the new case acquired the infection overseas or whether it was somehow transmitted in hotel quarantine. It was picked up on a day 12 exit test, and the person was showing symptoms.

Bennett said the first case, case one, and the newest case, case three, had “travelled through the same area” on their way to Australia. The doctor is case two.

Genomic sequencing indicates the cases are linked, but she said the case is under review because authorities believe it is possible case three is a historic case.

“The information is just all a little bit unusual,” Bennett said. “We want to rule out that there’s been any transmission at all in hotel. It’s one of a number of possible options to explain the case identified yesterday.”

She said the incident was “not at all” related to a previous outbreak at the Grand Chancellor in January, in which a cleaner was infected with the UK variant and passed the virus on to her partner. That sparked a three-day lockdown of greater Brisbane.

Queensland health minister, Yvette D’Ath, dismissed suggestions that the doctor would not have caught the virus if she had received her first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination, saying it had “never been claimed” that being vaccinated would stop an individual from getting the virus, just that it would stop them from getting seriously ill and dying.

“Even if this doctor had had their first vaccination or their second vaccination doesn’t guarantee that they won’t get Covid, what it does guarantee is that they won’t end up in ICU or on a ventilator,” she said.

“It’s completely inaccurate to say if this doctor had had their first vaccine then they wouldn’t have got it. Completely untrue.”

The Australian Medical Association criticised the Queensland government for the doctor testing positive, saying it was “completely preventable” with correct PPE and vaccinations.

D’Ath said the doctor had not yet received a vaccination because they “did not routinely work in the quarantine ward”, but that they were still part of the 1A priority group. She said she understood the doctor was wearing appropriate PPE.

“She was called on as I understand about 2.30am to come and assess a couple of arrivals from hotel quarantine who were showing symptoms,” D’Ath said.

“Every single person of the 37,000 people in the 1A group is a priority. But we can’t do all 37,000 on the one day.”

Morrison said he was “not surprised” that a Sydney hotel quarantine worker had tested positive after receiving their first dose of the vaccine. He made the comments at a press conference in Sydney after receiving his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, becoming one of the first Australians to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

“The vaccination isn’t immediate … once you’re vaccinated, you still have to try to observe, as you should, the Covid-safe behaviours,” he said. “I’m wearing a mask today. I’ve had two vaccines.”

Australia’s chief medical officer Prof Paul Kelly, who also received his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Sunday, said it was “unusual” that someone would contract Covid-19 after receiving their first dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine but not unheard of.

“There will be a small proportion who will be infected with the virus and may get mildly sick from the virus and can transmit the virus [after being vaccinated],” Kelly said. “There is a time lag, between getting the vaccine and that protection kicking in, of a few weeks.”

Federal health authorities have defended the speed of the Australian rollout, which has been criticised as not meeting the government’s own targets.

Health department secretary Prof Brendan Murphy, who is in charge of the rollout, said that every country “starts gently and ramps up”.

“We are ramping up as quickly as we have vaccine … this process is working well,” he said.



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