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What is each state and territory doing to avoid a coronavirus surge?


Matt Woodley


4/01/2021 5:20:34 PM

The global COVID outlook is ‘hugely different’ to Australia’s current circumstances, but with renewed community transmission health authorities are ramping up efforts to prevent further outbreaks.

Coronavirus superimposed over Australian flag.
With far more contagious COVID variants already present in some returned travellers, authorities are increasing their public health response.

With coronavirus cases and deaths continuing to soar amid the Northern Hemisphere winter, there are fears Australia will once again be faced with a new wave after months of almost no community transmission.
 
Sydney’s Avalon and Berala outbreaks already appear to have spread to Victoria, while Queensland has detected viral fragments in wastewater from Cairns to the Gold Coast.
 
But despite recent ramping up of testing and some restrictions, Australia has so far fared remarkably well compared to the rest of the world one year in to the pandemic. The country’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, recently pointing out there are still only 26 people hospitalised with the coronavirus nationwide.
 
This statistic is ‘hugely different’ from almost every other country in the world, Professor Kelly said, with many health systems currently at capacity or being overwhelmed by the number of cases.
 
‘We are seeing major problems and issues in relation to hospitalisations, particularly in the US but many other countries,’ he said.
 
‘We have zero people in intensive care and no-one, of course, therefore on ventilation. That is, again, a major difference between us and the rest of the world.’
 
But with new, far more contagious COVID variants from South Africa and the UK already present in some returned travellers to Australia, newsGP takes a look at what each state and territory is doing to prevent and deal with any new cases.
 
New South Wales
The NSW Government has announced the third cricket test between Australia and India will go ahead at the Sydney Cricket Ground before a 25% capacity crowd – some 10,000 people – despite calls for it to be played without fans.
 
Australia’s most populous state recorded no new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8.00 pm on 3 January, the first time it had done so since 15 December 2020.
 
Seven cases were recorded in returned travellers in hotel quarantine.
 
However, fewer than 23,000 tests were conducted during this time, which health authorities labelled as ‘far too low’, while there were also two local cases that missed the 8.00 pm cut-off and will be added to the following day’s numbers.  
 
Those cases were linked to the BWS Berala outbreak, which has forced thousands into isolation after two staff members worked throughout the Christmas period while COVID-positive.
 
There are currently 13 cases linked to the Berala cluster and NSW Acting Premier John Barilaro said the volume of people potentially affected could see a return to local lockdowns for some areas.
 
‘If you look from 22 to 26 December, they could be big numbers and we will always consider what we can do in relation to a lockdown, further restrictions, especially where there is a hot spot,’ he told Today.
 
‘There is no reason we couldn’t do that for Berala, Cumberland [local government area], but right now the data says we are on top of it, and I trust the expert advice we are receiving.’
 
NSW Health has said it is ‘critical’ that anyone who attended BWS Berala between 22–31 December, for even a few minutes during the times listed on the NSW Government website gets tested and isolates for 14 days, regardless of the result received.
 
The 22,275 tests reported on 3 January was an increase on the previous day’s total of 18,923, but still far below the more than 30,000 daily tests that authorities have targeted.
 
Face masks are now mandatory in several indoor settings across metropolitan Sydney, including Wollongong, the Central Coast and Blue Mountains: shopping (retail, supermarkets and shopping centres), public/shared transport, indoor entertainment (including cinemas and theatres), places of worship, hair and beauty premises.
 
Masks will also be mandatory for all staff in hospitality venues and casinos and for patrons using gaming services, with $200 on-the-spot fines issuable for non-compliance. Children under 12 are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks where practicable.
 
Other recently introduced restriction:

  • Gym classes reduced to 30 people
  • Places of worship and religious services limited to one person per four square metres up to a maximum of 100 people per separate area
  • Weddings and funerals limited to one person per four square metres up to a maximum of 100 people
  • Outdoor performances and protests reduced to 500 people
  • Controlled, outdoor gatherings (seated, ticketed, enclosed) reduced to 2000 people
  • Night clubs not permitted
 There are also stay-at-home orders in place for people in the northern zone of Sydney’s northern beaches, which will be in place until 9 January.
 
Victoria
There were three locally acquired cases in Victoria in the 24 hours prior to publication on Monday 4 January, along with one new internationally acquired case.
 
There are 36 known active cases in Victoria, but there are fears that number could continue to grow as tens of thousands of people present for testing each day.
 
The Victorian Government has responded to reports of overcapacity testing sites and hours-long queues by providing new information on wait-times for those seeking to get tested.
 
Nearly 32,468 tests were processed on Sunday 3 January, bringing the overall testing total in Victoria since the pandemic began to 3,962,283. The Government has reportedly more than doubled testing capacity in the past few days, and there are now more than 200 testing centres in operation.
 
Pathology teams are also processing more than three times the normal volume of tests and producing 86% of results within 24 hours, with 99.9% receiving results within 48 hours.
 
It has also closed the NSW border and instituted mandatory mask use in public indoor places. Additionally, gatherings in people’s homes have been reduced to a maximum of 15 people visitors.
 
Dozens of recent positive cases have been linked to Smile Buffalo Thai restaurant in Black Rock on Monday 21 December 2020, and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has provided a list of locations linked to known outbreaks. Anyone present at these locations at the date and time indicated must get tested immediately and quarantine for 14 days from the exposure.
 
Queensland
Queensland Health has increased its testing capacity through extra staffing and extended hours to help manage demand at respiratory clinics across the state, particularly in the south-east corner.
 
New restrictions in place now prevent anyone who has been in Victoria on or since 21 December from entering aged care facilities, hospitals, disability accommodation and correctional facilities.
 
‘We’re responding quickly to protect people in these facilities by restricting any visitors who have been in high-risk locations so we can keep them as safe as possible,’ Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said.
 
‘We’ve done this right through the pandemic, as have other jurisdictions.’
 
Anyone currently in Queensland who has been in Victoria on or since 21 December should get tested immediately and quarantine at home or their accommodation until they receive a negative result.
 
Testing has also confirmed a traveller who recently tested positive for COVID-19 in hotel quarantine in infected with a new variant of the virus, which is believed to have originated in South Africa.

Much like the UK variant, which has been detected in hotels in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, Dr Young said the South African variant is ‘believed to be more contagious’ than the common variant of COVID-19 identified in Australia.

‘We’ve confirmed that all health staff who have had contact with [the patient] since she arrived complied with our strict infection control measures and wore appropriate PPE [personal protective equipment],’ she said.

Paul-Kelly-article.jpg
Australian Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly pointed out there are only 26 people hospitalised with the coronavirus nationwide. (Image: AAP)

Routine wastewater testing has also returned positive results for viral fragments of COVID-19 in sewage at treatment plants in seven locations across the state.

Viral fragments were detected in treatment plants located in five greater Brisbane locations – Victoria Point, Oxley Creek, Goodna, Fairfield and Redcliffe – as well as Cairns North and Nambour.

Dr Young said continued positive sewage results, collected on December 22 and 23, are particularly concerning given the NSW cluster.

‘We are concerned given this is the first time we’ve had seven locations test positive at the same time,’ she said.

‘We have continued to enhance our sewage testing strategy to help detect the virus. What we don’t know is if a positive sewage result is due to a new case, a case that’s still developing, or an old case that is still shedding.

‘If there is a case in the community, it is critical we detect it through our testing mechanisms as quickly as possible to contain any potential spread.’
 
South Australia
All new positive COVID-19 cases are set to be housed in the one facility from February, with the State Government announcing Tom’s Court has been earmarked as SA’s dedicated medi-hotel.
 
Acting Minister for Health and Wellbeing Rob Lucas said the newly-built 72-bed facility was selected following a ‘comprehensive selection process’.
 
‘Many of the rooms have balconies and opening windows which can provide fresh air to the rooms … [and] the central location also allows for a rapid transfer to the Royal Adelaide Hospital should it be required,’ he said.
 
‘Some modifications to the heating ventilation and air conditioning system are required to enable the hotel to meet SA Health’s stringent requirements as a medi-hotel. Additional CCTV cameras also have to be installed.
 
‘The modifications will be finalised as soon as possible and are expected to be completed to enable the facility to start from a target date of the first week in February.’
 
The shift to a dedicated quarantine facility comes after a November outbreak from a medi-hotel led to a short state-wide lockdown and prompted a review of infection control procedures.
 
More than 99 security guards were stood down due to breaches, while Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier also suggested aerosols may have been responsible for the outbreak, prompting a renewed focus on ventilation.
 
South Australia currently has nine active cases, all of which were acquired overseas.
 
Border restrictions are currently in place for people travelling from NSW, and anyone who has been there in the 14 days prior to 1 January up until present will be prohibited from entering into SA.
 
Western Australia
There was only one new case identified in WA at the time of publication, which was picked up in a returned traveller in quarantine.
 
There are relatively few restrictions in place across the state; however, WA Premier Mark McGowan recently reclassified Victoria from a ‘very low risk’ to a ‘medium risk’ state.
 
The new classification means there is once again a hard border in place with Victoria (along with NSW), and only exempt travel will be permitted from either state. 
 
Victorians who arrived between 21 December and when the hard border was imposed on 1 January have been required to self-quarantine for two weeks and be tested on day 11 in WA. This also applies to anyone who may have been in Victoria since December 21 and has not completed 14 days in a lower risk state or territory
 
Tasmania
Mobile testing units will be sent to a number of regional centres in Tasmania during January to help lift the state-wide testing rate.
 
The mobile clinics program will run over a series of four weekends commencing 9 January 2021 in St Helens, Swansea, Strahan, Queenstown and Smithton. Four of the mobile clinics will run across Friday and Saturday to offer a weekday and weekend option.
 
Tasmania has designated certain premises in Victoria as high risk, and anyone at those premises at the specified dates and times will not be allowed to enter the state for at least 14 days, unless approved by the Deputy State Controller.
 
Likewise, the Northern Beaches local government area (LGA) remains a high-risk location, while the Greater Sydney region and the Wollongong LGAs have been deemed ‘medium risk’ locations.
 
Anyone who has visited these locations in the 14 days before arriving in Tasmania are required to enter quarantine, usually at home or a suitable premises.
 
There are no known active cases in the state.
 
ACT
There is one active case in the ACT, with no new cases detected in the past 24 hours.
 
However, despite the almost non-existent numbers, ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman has reminded Canberrans to be ‘COVID-safe’ as they head back to work after the summer break.
 
‘A lot of Canberrans will be heading back to work this week after being on holidays interstate … if you’re unwell, don’t go to work, get tested and self-isolate until you get a negative result,’ she said.
 
‘If you’ve been interstate during the holidays then pay special attention to the travel restrictions in place in the ACT for people who have been to COVID-affected areas of NSW.
 
‘ACT residents who have recently been in the Greater Sydney [including the Northern Beaches], Central Coast or Wollongong local government areas are required to quarantine for 14 days upon returning to the ACT, and should have notified ACT Health of their return to the ACT via our online declaration form.
 
‘Non-ACT residents who have been in these COVID-affected areas of NSW are not allowed to enter the ACT without an exemption.’
 
The ACT Government is yet to apply similar restrictions on people who have been in Victoria, but does recommend that they monitor the DHHS website to make sure they haven’t been in contact with a confirmed case.

Northern Territory
The NT Government has identified all of Greater Sydney as a coronavirus hotspot.
 
According to NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles, health authorities are also closely following developments in metropolitan Melbourne and could announce further hotspots given Victoria’s increasing case load.
 
‘We won’t hesitate to declare further hotspot regions. I urge all Territorians, please reconsider your travel over the coming weeks,’ she said.
 
‘This means if you arrive after this time, you will either need to quarantine in Howard Springs facility or in Alice Springs.’
 
There are currently 12 active cases in the NT, all of whom are among the 694 currently being held in quarantine or isolation.
 
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