Contact tracers are working as fast as they can to determine the extent of exposure to Queensland’s latest COVID-19 cases, with authorities awaiting case numbers over coming days to decide if another lockdown will be needed.
Griffith University infectious diseases expert Nigel McMillan said the number of cases resulting from an unvaccinated truck driver — who was infectious in Brisbane for up to eight days — will be the key factor in determining whether Greater Brisbane will face its fifth lockdown of the year.
The truck driver spent four nights at Adalong Guesthouse, a shared accommodation facility in South Brisbane, as well as the Royal Albert Hotel in the CBD and The Metropolitan in Spring Hill.
Queensland Health added exposure sites on Tuesday afternoon, including close contact locations Hill Station Restaurant and Cafe (indoor only) and Brands Pharmacy, both in Spring Hill.
Authorities yesterday declared COVID-19 vaccinations will be made mandatory for all freight truck drivers, with a first dose required by October 15 and a second dose or booking by November 15.
Meanwhile, in the Moreton Bay Region to Brisbane’s north, an Eatons Hill man and his wife also tested positive, but authorities are less concerned about these two cases as the man was fully vaccinated and was only infectious in the community for three days.
The fourth case, a woman who tested positive after completing 14 days in hotel quarantine, is also considered low risk.
Queensland authorities have moved quickly to impose lockdowns in previous outbreaks this year, but this time the move will be weighed against the knowledge that more than 64 per cent of eligible Queenslanders have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said she also expected the turnout at vaccination hubs to lift this week, in response to the latest cases.
Greater Brisbane has already been in lockdown this year in January, March, June and July/August.
On three of those occasions, authorities were concerned by the elevated risks of the Delta variant, but the state has consistently avoided outbreaks on the scale of those experienced by New South Wales and Victoria.
Thus far, health authorities and Queenslanders have braced for the possibility of the variant breaking out of containment.
The July/August lockdown — linked to the Indooroopilly State High School cluster — was the strictest the state has endured this year, with no visitors allowed in the home and face masks to be worn at all times.
Mask-wearing restrictions have largely remained throughout the year, even after outbreaks ended, in what Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has dubbed Queensland’s “best line of defence”.
‘Unvaccinated people more likely to transmit virus’
Professor McMillan said the COVID-positive truck driver detected yesterday posed a higher risk because he was unvaccinated.
“People who are unvaccinated, their viral load in their nasal passages and upper airways is much higher than in vaccinated people, so they’re much more likely to pass the virus on,” Professor McMillan said.
He said the man from Eatons Hill was, thus, less likely to spread the virus.
Professor McMillan said vaccinated people have lower viral loads, so they were less likely to pass COVID-19 on to others.
Shared accommodation a higher risk
After the truck driver tested positive, authorities put Adalong Guesthouse in South Brisbane in lockdown.
The accommodation has shared bathroom and kitchen spaces that could be prone to aiding virus transmission, Professor McMillan said.
“Obviously, in things like shared bathrooms, you’re not going to be wearing your mask at those times, so there is certainly a possibility that this person will [have] spread the virus.
“We have data from last year on the original strain, which showed that the virus can hang around for a few hours on some surfaces.”
Professor McMillan said the virus could last up to a day on porcelain and paper.
“We can probably assume that there will be some live virus hanging around for some time in the first 24 hours.”
He said the COVID-safe measures practised in the guesthouse would also determine the level of risk to other residents.
“The longer people spend together in a small space, the more likely you are to pass the virus on,” Professor McMillan said.
Dr Young said yesterday that she did not yet think a lockdown was necessary, but that she would continue to monitor the situation.
“We will be keeping a very, very close eye on what happens over the next 24 to 48 hours, to see if we need additional restrictions,” she said.
Professor McMillan said the number of cases — and the locations in which they popped up — would determine whether or not authorities impose a lockdown in Queensland.
“Obviously, if we get 10 cases … and they’re spread all over the south-east, then we can expect a lockdown.”
Professor McMillan said authorities might consider concentrating any lockdowns to specific local government areas with positive cases.
“It looks like the Chief Health Officer is talking about more localised lockdowns to smaller LGAs or smaller numbers of LGAs than before.”
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