“One thing is we can’t rule out is aerosol transmission … that is challenging – very, very challenging,” he said.
“[The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee] has been dealing with some of these issues. No doubt this will be a feature of the report that I will give to national cabinet tomorrow.”
Mr Andrews said he expected the Australian Open would go ahead, despite the new local case connected with the tournament’s hotel quarantine site.
Under new rules announced late on Wednesday, household visitor numbers will be capped at 15 people, down from the previous maximum of 30, with masks again mandatory for all public indoor venues.
The plan to allow 75 per cent capacity for public and private sector workplaces from Monday would also be paused, leaving the current cap of 50 per cent in place.
‘He’s a very diligent person’
Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville, who is responsible for the hotel quarantine program, said that the man who tested positive to coronavirus had an “amazing phone with a map” that had been helpful with working out is movements.
Ms Neville said she was first made aware at 5pm of the 26-year-old Noble Park man’s positive test result. She said the Country Fire Authority, where the man is a volunteer, alerted her at 6pm about a media inquiry the CFA received in relation to the confirmed case.
The fire services had begun contacting its volunteers about 3.40pm on Wednesday to alert them they could be close contacts.
In Parliament on Thursday, the opposition asked Ms Neville why she did not alert the public during her 4pm press conference on Wednesday that the hotel quarantine worker had tested positive.
“I did not know [about the case] at 4 o’clock yesterday,” Ms Neville said.
“The reason CFA was able to contact volunteers who attended a social event with the infected person is because of the infected person himself, because he’s a very diligent person.
“When he received personally his own positive test result from community testing … he contacted [the CFA].”
Ms Neville said when the man alerted his CFA colleagues about his positive test, the Department of Health had been conducting its contact tracing interview. “He’s got an amazing phone with a map that tells you exactly where he’s been, better than the Commonwealth’s COVIDSafe app,” she said.
The federal government’s $16 million COVIDSafe app, which the Prime Minister had billed as Australia’s ticket out of lockdown, has been beset by problems and not delivered on its promise to help contact tracers stem COVID-19 outbreaks.
The man’s case brought an end to the state’s 28-day run of zero community transmission. Genomic testing results, which would reveal if the new local case is carrying a more-virulent strain of the virus, are expected on Friday.
The Noble Park man, 26, worked as a resident support officer at the Grand Hyatt, as part of the Australian Open hotel quarantine program. He returned a negative test after working his last shift at the hotel on January 29.
There are now 14 exposure sites across Melbourne, with the Victorian health department revealing on Thursday morning the man had visited a Melbourne CBD bottle shop and a kebab store.
The infected man visited Russell Street’s Exford Hotel between 11pm and 11.35pm on January 29, stopping at the pub’s bottle shop, before visiting Kebab Kingz in West Melbourne between 11.24pm and 12.15am.
The Department of Health said those who have visited the listed exposure sites must get tested and isolate for 14 days, regardless of whether they return a negative result or not.
Mr Andrews said the infected Noble Park man was a “model employee” who had 20 close contacts who are family and friends.
“It’s early stages, that is positive news. He has 20 close primary contacts. We have been able to contact, speak with and give direction to 19 of those 20, so that is a very quick response,” he said. “We will find that 20th person throughout the day and put a public health response around that person.”
There were also “many, many hundreds of people” who had been contacted by the Department of Health as contacts, he said.
Mr Andrews said health authorities had reviewed CCTV footage from the hotel where the man works. He said that they could find “no problem, no breach of protocol or anything of that nature in terms of his employment”.
“We have reviewed literally days of CCTV footage, and this person … has been a model employee. Whether it is offing and donning (personal protective equipment), all the protocols, all the other rules that are followed up.
“Of course he has provided us with very detailed accounts of where he has been as well as any other information that we have needed. We are very grateful to him.”
The infected man is a CFA volunteer and attended a CFA function at Club Noble in Noble Park on January 30.
Up to 600 Australian Open players, officials and support staff who stayed in the Grand Hyatt are now considered casual contacts of the man.
Tennis Australia said in a statement on Thursday morning that those “quarantined at the hotel now need to be tested and isolate until they receive a negative test result”.
“There will be no matches at Melbourne Park on Thursday 4 February 2021.”
The fresh case comes as Victorian health authorities investigate the transmission of the UK variant of COVID-19 within one of the state’s quarantine hotels after the virus jumped from a hotel room to a guest in the opposite room.
The state’s public health team believe viral particles may have exited the room of a family who all later tested positive. Somehow, the virus either lingered in the air or attached itself to a hard surface, which then caused a woman in another room to contract the same strain of COVID-19.
Delays at Melbourne testing sites
Mr Andrews warned there will be delays at Melbourne testing sites on Thursday, particularly in Melbourne’s south-east, but said there was “no other way”.
A new COVID-19 testing site will be launched in Noble Park where the hotel quarantine resident support worker who tested positive on Wednesday resides.
Mr Andrews said he was “pleased to see a strong response in the south and south-east” but encouraged people to check the Department of Health website to pursue sites with shorter wait times.
“There will be delays, there is no other way around it, it has got to be done meticulously,” he said. “We cannot have people stampeding through those bases, it must be done slowly.
Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander, Jeroen Weimar, apologised for the delays but said at least four additional testing sites on Thursday were being created.
New testing policy for hotel quarantine workers
Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng announced there would be new measures to test hotel quarantine workers after they finish a run of shifts.
The man tested negative to COVID-19 after he completed his last shift on January 29, but then tested positive on February 3.
The last positive virus case in the Grand Hyatt where he was working was on January 22, and that person was moved to a health hotel.
There have been six COVID-19 cases at the Australian Open hotel quarantine site.
“It’s probably not rocket science to say he’s probably caught it from one of the cases,” Professor Cheng said.
“We have got a program for testing them while they are at work and we’re making sure that they are also tested on their days off as well.
“We’re always trying to learn from all of these things and make sure that we tighten up on every step along the way.”
Professor Cheng said he believed the risk to Australian Open players and staff at the Grand Hyatt was “relatively low” because they were in their rooms at the time, but they are undergoing precautionary testing.
Meanwhile, Mr Andrews said he would consider moving hotel quarantine away from Melbourne and into regional areas if health experts and national cabinet suggested the proposal, but it didn’t remove all “risk” of the virus escaping quarantine.
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at email@example.com
David Estcourt is a court and general news reporter at The Age.
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.