An extremely rare case in Adelaide is causing major concern as a growing cluster, as hundreds are feared to have been exposed to the virus.
The source of the new infections are not known with health authorities fearing hundreds of people in the city’s northern suburbs could have been exposed to the deadly virus.
The next 24-hours will be crucial in identifying the source of the “potentially disastrous” outbreak.
A woman in her 80s was diagnosed at Adelaide’s Lyell McEwin Hospital emergency department on Saturday after visiting on Friday night, leading to 90 staff and patients being ordered to quarantine.
The woman was in emergency for 10 hours on Friday and was tested early on Saturday.
Two of the woman’s family members, a female in her 50s and a man in his 60s, have tested positive for the deadly virus.
The three are all from the same family and are related to a staff member from a medi-hotel holding quarantined patients in Adeaide. Health authorities say they are considering this as the likely source but the information is “very, very early”.
A fourth case linked to the cluster was reported later on Sunday after a prison worker tested positive in the growing cluster.
ABC News reports SA Correctional Services chief executive David Brown said “an employee at Yatala Labour Prison in Adelaide’s northern suburbs had tested positive”.
The positive case is understood to be a close family contact of one of the cases.
Four other members of the family are showing symptoms and are awaiting coronavirus testing results.
The state’s chief health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier described the new cases as “very troubling”, revealing the woman had visited a suburban shopping centre, Parafield Plaza Supermarket.
She said the cluster is the worst outbreak in South Australia yet, fearing multiple public venues may have been visited by family members yet to be confirmed as infected patients.
“I’m expecting that we will have more cases,” Prof Spurrier said Sunday.
The woman’s relatives work in a range of vulnerable industries, including health care, aged care and correctional services.
Anyone who visited Parafield Plaza or any other venue in the area and is showing symptoms is being urged to get tested immediately.
“I am expecting we will have more cases, which is why I am absolutely warning South Australians: this is a wake-up call — if you have respiratory symptoms, you‘ve got to get tested,” she said.
SA Health has issued a contact tracing alert for anyone who was at the Lyell McEwin Hospital between 5.30pm on Friday and 4.00am Saturday, as well as the Parafield Plaza Supermarket between 10.30am and 11.30am on Thursday.
Health authorities are now scrambling to contain the cluster by setting up temporary testing stations in the northern suburbs and contact tracing will focus on the medi-hotel where the family member works.
“Obviously, this is where we‘re considering the source to be,” Prof Spurrier said.
“This is a very close-knit family and they do spend a lot of time with each other.”
The woman in her 80s has been shifted to the Royal Adelaide Hospital and is reportedly in a stable condition.
Another case was reported in SA but this patient was already in hotel quarantine, taking the state’s active cases to 19.
Chaos followed at Adelaide’s airport as WA immediately imposed restrictions on South Australian travellers, required to complete 14 days in quarantine.
Anyone arriving from South Australia at Perth Airport will now be tested for COVID-19 on arrival (or within 24 hours of arrival at another COVID clinic) and on subsequent quarantine days.
For a third day straight, NSW reported no new cases of locally transmitted COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm Saturday night. Seven cases were reported in overseas travellers in hotel quarantine, bringing the total number of cases in NSW to 4,193. There were 12,465 tests reported to 8pm Saturday night, compared with 12,890 in the previous 24 hours. NSW Health is treating 77 COVID-19 cases, with no patients in intensive care. Ninety-two per cent of cases being treated by NSW Health are in non-acute, out-of-hospital care. NSW Health continues to appeal to the community to come forward for testing right away if anyone has even the mildest of symptoms like a runny nose or scratchy throat, cough, fever or other symptoms that could signal COVID-19. A spokesperson said it was particularly important in south western Sydney, western Sydney and south eastern Sydney, where there have been locally transmitted cases recently. It comes as Victoria recorded seven new cases of COVID-19 – six linked to an outbreak in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The state’s Premier Daniel Andrews hit pause on easing any restrictions for Melbourne, but was allowing changes in regional areas from October 28. There are more than 300 COVID-19 testing locations across NSW. To find your nearest clinic visit https://www.nsw.gov.au/…/how-to-protect…/clinics or contact your GP.
For a third day straight, NSW reported no new cases of locally transmitted COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm Saturday night.
Seven cases were reported in overseas travellers in hotel quarantine, bringing the total number of cases in NSW to 4,193.
There were 12,465 tests reported to 8pm Saturday night, compared with 12,890 in the previous 24 hours.
NSW Health is treating 77 COVID-19 cases, with no patients in intensive care. Ninety-two per cent of cases being treated by NSW Health are in non-acute, out-of-hospital care.
NSW Health continues to appeal to the community to come forward for testing right away if anyone has even the mildest of symptoms like a runny nose or scratchy throat, cough, fever or other symptoms that could signal COVID-19.
A spokesperson said it was particularly important in south western Sydney, western Sydney and south eastern Sydney, where there have been locally transmitted cases recently.
It comes as Victoria recorded seven new cases of COVID-19 – six linked to an outbreak in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
The state’s Premier Daniel Andrews hit pause on easing any restrictions for Melbourne, but was allowing changes in regional areas from October 28.
Getting on a plane is almost inevitable when you live in a country as big as Australia.
Particularly if you’re like me, and choose to live on one side of the continent, but have a lot of family living on the other (hi Mum and Dad!).
While the coronavirus pandemic has most of us grounded for months, in some parts of the country people are still flying and, as case numbers start to decline, many of us dreaming of the day we can fly again.
So what does the latest research tell us about the risk of catching coronavirus on flights? And what precautions can you take to protect yourself the next time you get on a plane?
Catching coronavirus in the air
It’s possible to pick up coronavirus on a flight through direct contact with an infected person, or from a surface that they might touch.
You can also become infected via droplet transmission if someone with COVID-19 coughs or sneezes in close proximity to you.
Then there’s the risk of inhaling small virus particles circulating in the air.
In most cases, it’s impossible to tell how exactly the infection occurred, so it’s best to control for all the possible ways the virus can be spread, says Lidia Morawska, director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at Queensland University of Technology.
We don’t have a huge body of data across many thousands of flights to say which modes of transmission are most likely, Professor Morawska says, or what the risk is of catching this coronavirus compared to other respiratory viruses on a plane.
Instead in the scientific literature we’re seeing case studies of specific flights, but there are still some common themes emerging.
A recently published study found that two people who were potentially infected on a flight from Israel to Germany were seated within two rows of an infected passenger.
This suggests that “the airflow in the cabin from the ceiling to the floor and from the front to the rear may have helped reduce the transmission rate”, according to the researchers.
The authors of this study suggest you are more likely to get infected if you come in contact with a contaminated surface or an infected person when boarding, moving around, or disembarking from the aircraft.
They believe one passenger picked up the virus on this flight while using an onboard toilet, after it was used by an asymptomatic, but infected, passenger (more on aeroplane toilets below).
Professor Morawska hasn’t specifically tested airflow in aircraft, however her understanding is “there is a fast removal of air and air is filtered before it is re-entered back into the cabin”.
But there are still a few issues to be aware of, she says.
Due to the close proximity of passengers seated in aeroplanes, “you are often within the breathing zone of another person”.
Another issue is the direction of the airflow.
“The air, because this is a small space, is not mixed, it flows in that one direction,” Professor Morawska says, in the case of the first study from the front of the plane to the rear.
“Therefore if it passes first an infected person and then passes other people before it is pulled back to be filtered, people [can] inhale this for a prolonged period of time during the flight.”
“It’s not that the air conditioner was spreading [the virus], but [the] airflow directed air from the infected person towards other people,” Professor Morawska says.
The tricks of using an aeroplane toilet
Using an aeroplane toilet is challenging at the best of times, but Professor Morawsky says it can also be potentially dangerous.
On one hand the air exchange rate in the toilet is very high, as you can hear the torrent of air when you’re in the toilet, which is a good thing.
But you could end up using the toilet immediately after another person leaves, which often happens during busy periods and you have to wait in line.
If the person before you has flushed the toilet just before they leave, you could enter the space when stuff aerosolised from the toilet, including virus particles excreted in an infected person’s urine or poo, is still in the air.
One way of preventing this from occurring is to make sure the toilet lid is closed before flushing.
“And allowing some period of time before the next person enters,” adds Professor Morawska.
Given aeroplane toilets are such small spaces there’s also the risk of touching contaminated surfaces.
So try to minimise what you touching in the toilet as much as you can, and also make sure you thoroughly wash your hands, she says.
What the airlines are doing
Australia’s aviation industry has developed a Domestic Passenger Journey Protocol, that has been endorsed by all the state and territory chief health officers and the Australian Government’s Chief Medical Officer.
It outlines the general steps they will be taking to provide a COVID-safe domestic flying environment for passengers and crew including enhanced cleaning and reduced touch points, although you may notice some small differences between carriers.
For example, Rex is requiring passengers undergo temperature screening before they board a flight, but this is not being done by either Qantas or Virgin, a decision Professor Morawska disagrees with.
“This would certainly pick up at least symptomatic people,” she says.
Rex has also made wearing a mask on their flights mandatory. While Qantas and Virgin strongly recommend passengers wear masks, their use is only mandatory on flights into or out of Victoria.
“The data shows that the actual risk of catching coronavirus on an aircraft is already extremely low,” says Qantas Group Medical Director, Ian Hosegood.
Qantas also pointed to the fact that we haven’t seen any coronavirus clusters as a result of flying, unlike the cluster that occurred at the Guangzhou restaurant.
“That’s due to a combination of factors, including the cabin air filtration system, the fact people don’t sit face-to-face and the high backs of aircraft seats acting as a physical barrier.”
“As far as the virus goes, an aircraft cabin is a very different environment to other forms of public transport,” Dr Hosegood says.
Neither Virgin or Rex replied to the ABC’s request for comment before deadline.
Professor Morawska is more sceptical.
“There’s definitely no science behind that it’s low [risk],” she says.
“Well, there’s low risk if all the precautions are taken. But otherwise, there’s potentially a high risk.”
What you can do
So what should you do to protect yourself as much as you can if you’re taking a flight?
Airlines will ask you to complete a health acknowledgement confirming you don’t have symptoms; haven’t tested positive or been in contact with someone who has; or aren’t waiting on a test result before you board.
Keep your distance from other passengersbefore boarding and after disembarking from the flight.
“If the virus is still around, I don’t think there’s any other option but wearing a mask,” Professor Morawska says.
“That’s definitely what I would be doing.”
And make sure you wear your mask properly so it fully covers your nose.
Also consider the level of community transmission of where you’re flying out from as this will increase the likelihood of an asymptomatic person being on your flight, and the length of time you’ll be spending on the flight.
Obviously, the longer the flight, the higher the risk.
“During long flights, even if the infected passenger doesn’t exhale a lot … you may inhale enough to be infected, so the time duration is critical,” Professor Morawska says.
No parties, no pubs, no smooching with a stranger and definitely no one night stands.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a huge impact on the sex lives of Australians. But while the world has been consumed with the trajectory of one kind of virus, some sexual health clinicians are quietly pleased with the mellowing out of another.
In the ACT, there was a 52 per cent reduction in the number of people testing positive to gonorrhoea in April, compared to the average of the past five years.
And, following a national trend, there was a 34 per cent decrease in the recorded cases of chlamydia.
Although we do not have a full picture of the data yet, experts say the pandemic could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to drive down the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
“Nationally, that data won’t be available for quite some time,” Canberra Sexual Health Centre director Sarah Martin said.
“I think we’ve had an opportunity to slow down.”
Dr Martin’s clinic, along with many others, have changed the way they do regular sexual health check-ups during COVID-19.
Patients have been asked to phone ahead for an initial assessment, and only those considered high risk have had face-to-face appointments.
That might be skewing the data — with fewer people to test, the lab could be returning different results. But Dr Martin said it was likely at least some of the reduction in cases was because of what was effectively an enforced period of celibacy.
Now is the chance to break the chain of infection
Dr Martin said she was aware that a lot of people were keen to get their sex lives back on track once coronavirus restrictions eased further.
That is why she is urging people to get their STI tests now, even if they have no symptoms.
“Some people might not feel they need testing now. Others might have decided to delay testing for a while. And others again, might have found it more difficult to access testing than usual,” Dr Martin said.
“[But] now it’s an opportunity to think through how to stay safe.”
ACT Labor politician Tara Cheyne agreed with Dr Martin, and said getting tested was a no brainer.
“It was incredibly straightforward, it wasn’t a big deal,” Ms Cheyne said.
Ms Cheyne also agreed that there is no better time to get tested than now.
“I think there’s probably something almost a little bit sexy in itself about being confident in your own mind and of your own health, that you are STI free,” she added.
“For many STIs the treatments are very simple. It can be as simple as taking one or two tablets and waiting a week.”
Dating could forever be different
The return to what has been dubbed ‘regency-era courtship’ by those in the dating game has led to many a meme, and many first dates have been conducted via video chat during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sexologist Kym Robinson said that, while she was not sure all her single clients had been following the strict physical distancing restrictions, she was hopeful the focus COVID-19 placed on infectious diseases would transfer to safe sex practices and prevention of STIs.
“We’re talking a lot more about social distancing and ways of protecting ourselves like hand washing. I’m hoping that people are going to put a little bit more thought into safer sex practices,” Mrs Robinson said.
While it might be anxiety inducing to have safe-sex conversations with potential partners in a post-shutdown world, Mrs Robinson said it is better than the alternative.
“If you don’t get checked, those are actually more tricky conversations,” she said.
“Imagine how much more difficult it’ll be later, when you say we need to use a condom because I have something that I don’t want you to catch.”