Race to track virus amid silent transmission fears

 

Genomic testing is underway to determine whether the coronavirus case of a Brisbane Youth Detention Centre supervisor is linked to a cluster sparked by two infected women who allegedly lied about travelling to Melbourne.

The detention centre is expected to be in lockdown for at least a fortnight after the woman, in her 70s, from Bundamba, in Ipswich, tested positive to the virus.

Health authorities are desperately trying to trace where she caught the virus, with testing ordered to determine whether the strain she has can be linked genetically to a cluster of five cases started by two young Logan women who returned with the virus from Melbourne.

Diana Lasu and Olivia Winnie Muranga contracted the virus on a trip to Melbourne in July with friend Haja Timbo, and all three allegedly lied to avoid hotel quarantine when returning to Queensland before attending restaurants, shops and cafes in Brisbane's southside.

Queensland Health said results of the genetic tests were unlikely to be known until the end of next week

If the case cannot be linked to the Logan cluster, Griffith University Infectious Diseases and Immunology professor Nigel McMillan said it could indicate an "unknown chain of infection".

That would raise concerns about silent transmission of the virus within the community, particularly if Queenslanders were not vigilant about getting tested and staying home if they develop symptoms.

The Brisbane Youth Detention Centre at Wacol is expected to be in lockdown for at least a fortnight after the infected supervisor, who is in a stable condition in the Ipswich Hospital, was diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, late on Wednesday.

Her positive test triggered detailed and "well-tested" plans, developed months ago to contain any potential spread of the virus within the detention facility.

Queensland Government pathology workers arrive at Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, Wacol, which is in lockdown after a supervisor tested positive to the novel coronavirus. Photo: Liam Kidston.
Queensland Government pathology workers arrive at Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, Wacol, which is in lockdown after a supervisor tested positive to the novel coronavirus. Photo: Liam Kidston.

Personal protective equipment has been issued to 127 young people detained at the Wacol centre and more than 500 staff members after the worker's positive test.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Thursday renewed pleas for Queenslanders to stay at home if they are unwell after details emerged the woman had continued going to work while she was sick.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the woman was believed to have developed symptoms on August 10 and worked five shifts while infectious.

The state's Youth Justice Detector-General Bob Gee described the infected detention centre supervisor as a "valued employee in terms of her experience".

"We're concerned about her ongoing health," he said.

 

Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, Wacol, is in lockdown after a supervisor tested positive to SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. Liam Kidston.
Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, Wacol, is in lockdown after a supervisor tested positive to SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. Liam Kidston.

Mr Gee said new admissions to the detention centre would not be accepted while it remained in lockdown.

In the meantime, young offenders will be kept in watch houses and if necessary, transported to the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre, in Townsville, which has 34 spare beds.

CCTV footage from the Wacol centre will be used to trace who the supervisor may have come into contact with while infectious.

"The advice I have initially is that her contact was limited to only a very small number of young people," Mr Gee said. "She has not worked walking through the accommodation section. She's worked in the operations centre."

Together Union secretary Alex Scott, who represents detention centre staff, said those who worked shifts with the woman were fearful of "the unknown".

"I think at this stage the staff are generally concerned about the fact that they've been exposed for the last four days, before the employer knew."

Mr Scott said the union was comfortable with arrangements put in place by the government around protections for staff. 

"It's more a matter of making sure who might have been on shift over the last five days and working out how many of those people were in close contact and have to be sent home for isolation plus testing as opposed to those who can continue to go to work," he said.

Mr Scott said it was likely some children would have left the centre during the period.

"But I think we're more worried about the mental health of the kids left behind, it is going to be a deeply traumatic process," he said.

The Ipswich case comes after another woman tested positive to the virus on her return to Japan from Brisbane, via Sydney.

 

Queensland Government pathology workers arrive at Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, Wacol, which is in lockdown after a supervisor tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Photographer: Liam Kidston.
Queensland Government pathology workers arrive at Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, Wacol, which is in lockdown after a supervisor tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Photographer: Liam Kidston.

Dr Young said the Japanese resident had spent most of her time in Queensland looking after her sick father in the Morningside-Bulimba area.

Queensland issued a public health alert on Wednesday after the woman tested positive in a compulsory swab on her arrival in Tokyo.

The alert has been issued for people who travelled on Virgin flight VA962 from Brisbane to Sydney on Monday, particularly those in rows 25 to 29, and anyone who dined at The Jam Pantry cafe at Greenslopes, on Brisbane's southside, on Sunday, particularly those who were there between 9.45-11am.

"The woman arrived in Australia in mid-July and was in hotel quarantine in Sydney for two weeks prior to coming to Brisbane," Dr Young said. 

"While in quarantine, she returned two negative test results. Because she quarantined in Sydney for two weeks and travelled straight to Brisbane from hotel quarantine, she could go about her normal life in Brisbane." 

Health Minister Steven Miles said the woman arrived in Brisbane on August 1 and spent most of her time with her ill father.

He said contact tracers had so far identified six close contacts.

Asked how likely it was the woman caught the virus in Brisbane, Mr Miles said: "It's hard to tell exactly what's happened here, particularly given that she's now in Japan and not available to our public health staff to do further testing. 

"If she was here we would do further testing. We're just being very, very cautious. We're treating it as though she could have been infectious. We are contacting people who could have been in contact with her.

"We've tested her father. The results of that test aren't back yet."

Dr Young said health authorities believed the risk to Queenslanders from that case was "very low".

The woman has not been included in Queensland's tally of 1093 infections because she tested positive in Japan.

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Race to track virus amid silent transmission fears



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