A Victorian hotel quarantine worker has tested positive to COVID-19, prompting the state government to reintroduce masks indoors and reduce the size of private gatherings.
The state’s health department revealed the positive test on Wednesday night, adding that public health teams were investigating the case and close contacts were being notified.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the new case was in a 26-year-old man from Noble Park in Melbourne’s south-east who had been working as a resident support worker as part of the Australian Open quarantine program.
His infection has prompted alerts for exposure sites in Noble Park, Brighton, Springvale, Keysborough, Brandon Park and Heatherton.
Out of an abundance of caution, Mr Andrews said, the state will also revert to previous coronavirus restrictions from 11.59pm on Wednesday, with household gatherings limited to 15 visitors and masks made mandatory in public indoor spaces apart.
A 75 per cent return-to-work office cap scheduled for Monday, 8 February will be paused, and the current cap of 50 per cent will remain in place.
“This is one case. There’s no need for people to panic,” Mr Andrews said.
“We are all well trained and well schooled in what to do as a state. But we’ve got to take this seriously.”
He said it wasn’t yet clear how the man was infected, or what strain of the virus he had caught. The worker has been transferred to a health hotel and his close contacts are isolating.
He last worked at the Grand Hyatt on 29 January, when he was tested for COVID-19 and returned a negative result, only to later develop symptoms and get tested again.
The news came on Wednesday night as Victorian authorities probed a potential case of COVID-19 transmission between guests in quarantine at Melbourne’s Park Royal Hotel.
Two separate groups of guests in adjacent rooms at the hotel have tested positive for the more infectious B117 coronavirus variant, first detected in the United Kingdom.
Victoria’s Police Minister Lisa Neville, responsible for overseeing the revamped hotel quarantine program, said genomics had shown the infections were identical.
“That means it’s as if they have been in the same room together,” she told reporters earlier on Wednesday.
One of the groups, a family of five who are all now infected with the virus, arrived from Nigeria on 20 January and tested positive four days later.
A fellow returned traveller in an adjacent room, who restarted her 14-day quarantine stint after her husband arrived on 16 January, twice tested negative before returning a positive result on 28 January.
Questions remain over how the woman in her 60s became infected, given her partner’s day three and 11 swabs were negative.
Ms Neville said security footage outside the rooms had been reviewed, with no indication of any breach of protocols by the families or staff during their stay.
“The viral load in the room of the family of five … was so high that just even opening the door to pick up your food has seen the virus get into the corridor,” she said.
“That is the working assumption.
“There has been absolutely no kids running down corridors or movement between the rooms at all.”
The infected woman remembers opening her door at the same time as the room next door but she has not been able to pinpoint the exact date or time.
Deputy Chief Health Officer Melanie Van Twest said authorities believe the potential room leak stemmed from the family’s collective infectiousness in combination with the potent UK variant.
“This might be a Swiss cheese line of holes where everything has lined up to create this particular event,” she said.
“As far as we know, there’s no community transmission. This has happened within the hotel. It’s contained.”
The hotel’s ventilation system will be reviewed, although Ms Neville said an earlier report had found no air was being shared between rooms or into common spaces.
“It’s probably unlikely to have been the ventilation system in this case,” she said.
All positive cases have been moved to a health hotel and remain in isolation, while the husband of the infected woman has been moved to another room.
Some 100 hotel quarantine staff members and 37 returned travellers who have completed their 14 days on the impacted floor are now self-isolating at home. None have tested positive thus far.
It comes after Victoria reached 28 days without any new local cases, widely regarded as the milestone for community elimination of the virus.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.