Victorians are “on track” to enjoy eased Covid restrictions from Friday, acting premier James Merlino has said, with the two new cases announced in the state on Tuesday linked to existing cases.
Health authorities also revealed that genomic sequencing has linked the Delta strain of Covid-19 that spread in West Melbourne to a traveller who returned from Sri Lanka and entered hotel quarantine on 8 May.
While he tested positive in hotel quarantine and was moved to a health hotel on 9 May before finishing quarantine on 23 May, authorities are puzzled as to how the man in his 40s transmitted the virus to other cases in the West Melbourne cluster.
The man lives in the Glen Eira LGA, in Melbourne’s southeast, and the other 23 passengers on his flight, aircrew, Skybus crew, and hundreds of staff from both hotels linked to the man have tested negative.
“I can confirm that so far there is no reported or obvious breach of infection prevention control protocols or anything else that would indicate a transmission has happened inside the hotel,” Danny Pearson, acting police and emergency services minister, said.
Allen Cheng, Victoria’s deputy chief health officer, said of four theories authorities are exploring about how the Covid spread from the man, the “most likely” was that he transmitted the virus to another hotel guest or to a staff member when being transferred to the Holiday Inn health hotel.
Of the two new cases announced on Tuesday, one is a child linked to the West Melbourne Delta variant cluster, and the other is a household contact of a worker linked to the Kappa variant outbreak at the Arcare Maidstone aged care facility.
Merlino said both of the new cases have had limited community exposure, as they were primary contacts of known cases.
While flagging an easing of restrictions to take effect from Friday, Merlino said public health advice meant that travel between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria would continue to be restricted over the long weekend.
“That will extend beyond any announcements that we will make later in the week. There are very good reasons for that. We absolutely want to run this into ground and ensure that there’s no risk of this spreading out into regional Victoria. We wanted to be up-front and honest with people at the earliest opportunity.”
“I don’t want to foreshadow what we are going to announce. We are still…working through all the elements. It is a day-by-day, hour by hour analysis about how we are tracking … We remain on track to provide that easing of restrictions to all Victorians,” Merlino said.
There are now 85 local cases of Covid-19 in Victoria.
Asked if the genomic discovery of the Delta variant’s origins constituted a failure of hotel quarantine, Merlino reiterated the shortcomings of hotel design and how his state has been pursuing a purpose-built quarantine facility.
“We are making it as risk-free as humanely possible but it has never ever been a zero-risk environment. That is not the nature of hotels. Hotels are built for tourists. They’re not built to tackle infectious disease,” Merlino said.
He also said that any purpose-built quarantine facility would act alongside hotel quarantine, and could be used to support higher risk returned travellers.
Merlino was also scathing of the Victorian opposition’s demand for premier Daniel Andrews to release details of his back injury, saying the state Liberal party “should be ashamed of themselves”.
Ambulance Victoria issued a statement with details of Andrews’ fall on Tuesday morning, and Merlino backed calls for the opposition to apologise.
“You can’t put to bed conspiracy nutters and if the Liberal party want to act disgracefully, that is a matter for them,” Merlino said.
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