Twenty travellers who have arrived in Victoria from Queensland in the last fortnight have been ordered to isolate and get tested, amid fears they may have been exposed to a highly-contagious virus strain in hotel quarantine.
Health authorities are on high alert about an outbreak of the UK mutant strain at a quarantine hotel in Brisbane which may have spread interstate.
Victorian contract tracers have tracked down 20 travellers who were quarantining at the Grand Chancellor Hotel on or after December 30, Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed on Thursday.
Two have since crossed the South Australia border.
It comes Victoria has recorded no new coronavirus cases for an eighth consecutive day from 16,533 tests conducted on Wednesday.
Mr Andrews announced mask-wearing rules will be relaxed back to pre-Christmas levels next week.
From midnight Sunday, masks will only be compulsory across Victoria in high-risk indoor settings indoors such as supermarkets, shopping centres, hospitals, domestic flights, Ubers/taxis and public transport.
Victoria health authorities remain on high alert, despite easing of mask wearing from next week. Pictured is a health care workers a Melbourne testing facility
But he’s also taking the Brisbane hotel quarantine outbreak ‘very seriously’ and has exchanged a series with texts with Queensland counterpart Annastacia Palaszczuk regarding the matter since Wednesday.
‘To have 18 people who could be infected that with that novel strain, highly infectious strain out of the UK is of concern to us,’ Mr Andrews said.
Some of the 18 returned travellers in Victoria need to isolate for another 14 days while others will only need to self-isolate until they return a negative test.
‘There’s not one blanket answer,’ Mr Andrews said on Thursday.
‘It depends on when they were in hotel quarantine.
‘There’s a specific window where we believe there is some chance that because of the infections that have already been recorded in hotel quarantine, between staff and residents, and it is that UK strain, without any other link, circumstances are very much based on each person’s travel movements and when they were in hotel quarantine.’
‘It will depend on their individual circumstances, but we’re well and truly in contact with them and we will provide them with tailored and specific advice about what they need to do.’
Victoria recorded no coronavirus cases for a eighth consecutive day on Thursday. Pictured are healthcare workers at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, which will welcome the arrival of Australian Open players and officials in the coming days
Anyone who completed mandatory hotel quarantine at Brisbane’s Grand Chancellor Hotel on or after December 30 and have since arrived Victoria is ordered to self-isolate and immediately contact the state’s coronavirus hotline.
They must get tested and quarantine at home until they receive a negative result.
‘The Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Greater Brisbane, Moreton Bay, Redlands, Logan, Ipswich will continue to remain in the in the red zone and travel to Victoria will not be permitted without an exemption, exception or permitted worker permit,’ Victoria’s Department of Health and Human services added in a statement.
‘Anyone who has arrived into Victoria from one of these LGA since 30 December must get tested and quarantine at home until they receive a negative result.’
Anyone who completed hotel quarantine at Brisbane’s Grand Chancellor hotel (pictured on Wednesday) on or after December 30 and have since arrived Victoria is ordered to self-isolate
New South Wales has issued a similar health alert, urging anyone who had been at the hotel since December 30, as a returned traveller or worker, to immediately get tested and isolate for 14 days regardless of the result.
The cluster linked to the Brisbane hotel currently stands at six which includes four quarantining guests, a cleaner and her partner.
The Grand Chancellor Hotel is now closed for deep cleaning after 129 quarantined guests were moved to alternative accommodation on Wednesday night after two guests on the same floor mysteriously caught the virus.
Meanwhile, mask-wearing rules in Victoria will be relaxed back to pre-Christmas levels from Monday.
Masks will only be compulsory in high-risk indoor settings indoors such as supermarkets, shopping centres, hospitals, domestic flights, Ubers/taxis and public transport.
Masks were recently made mandatory again in late December following new outbreaks in Melbourne and in NSW.
‘We know masks have been a very important insurance policy,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘That extra level of protection against transmitting this virus.’
Many Melbourne workers will also return to the office for the the first time in months next Monday.
Private office buildings will be able to operate at 50 per cent capacity, while the public sector will return at 25 per cent, which the Premier described as a positive step forward.
‘I think pausing for the week was the right choice to make given there was some uncertainty, but now eight days of zero means we can make that announcement,’ Mr Andrews said.
There are currently 29 active cases of coronavirus across Victoria.
Meanwhile, the first of 1200 tennis players, support crew and officials are expected to arrive in Melbourne on Thursday night for next month’s Australian Open.
They must quarantine at one of three Australian Open-dedicated hotels for two weeks ahead of the first tennis grand slam for 2021.
Healthcare workers are pictured preparing for the arrival of 1200 tennis players, support crew and officials who will check in at three Melbourne quarantine hotels in the coming days
UK’s mutant Covid strain explained
The highly infectious mutant strain of Covid now has 27 variations after it was first identified in Kent County, England, on September 21.
It now represents more than 50% of new cases diagnosed between October and Dec, making it the most common strain of Covid in England presently.
The deadly strain is believed to be more contagious and affects children worse than the original, prompting the government to plunge England back into its third nationwide lockdown.
The new variant is between 50 per cent and 74 per cent more contagious than the last, but is not necessarily any more deadly.