Authorities in Australian have responded swiftly to comprise potential outbreaks of the UK variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19.
On Thursday 7 January, a cleaner for a lodge quarantine facility in Brisbane examined optimistic for the extra contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first sequenced within the UK in September, which has now reached no less than 45 international locations.
The variant has beforehand been detected in returning worldwide passengers in lodge quarantine, however that is the primary time somebody had unknowingly been within the Australian group whereas probably infectious.
The next morning, with no additional optimistic circumstances, Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk introduced a brief, citywide circuit-breaker lockdown affecting some 2 million residents.
The town, the place life has been regular for months, hadn’t locked down for the reason that first wave in Australia in March.
“Doing three days now could avoid doing 30 days in the future,” mentioned Palaszczuk on Friday.
The lockdown started on Friday at 6pm Brisbane time, and ended on Monday 11 January on the identical time. It included a strict masks mandate for anybody leaving their houses, together with whereas driving and exercising.
Inside days, contact tracers recognized over 150 of the cleaner’s informal and shut contacts, who’ve all been quarantined.
The town recorded just one new case of group transmission through the lockdown interval – the cleaner’s companion – however it’s nonetheless too early to rule out unknown transmission.
“We have to wait two weeks since the last possible exposure that index case had,” says Raina MacIntyre, an infectious illnesses professional on the College of New South Wales in Sydney.
The South African variant of SARS-CoV-2 has additionally been detected in Australia, with the primary case seen in lodge quarantine on 22 December. In response to the menace posed by the 2 variants, on eight January, Australia’s Nationwide Cupboard carried out tighter restrictions for returning passengers.
Australia has had obligatory lodge quarantine for passengers arriving within the nation since 28 March final yr, with solely residents, everlasting residents and their instant household allowed to enter, in addition to individuals who have been in New Zealand for no less than the previous 14 days .
All passengers will now be required to check detrimental earlier than boarding flights to Australia, and masks can be obligatory in all airports and on all worldwide and home flights.
Resort quarantine workers, together with cleaners and transport employees, can be examined for covid-19 day by day – they have been beforehand examined weekly.
Different Australian states swiftly shut their borders to those that had been within the Better Brisbane space, leaving hundreds returning or transferring interstate in limbo – this reporter included.
There was broad public help for the measures: Australians throughout the nation are eager to keep away from one other Melbourne-style lockdown, which was each stringent and longstanding, and are shocked by the scenario in Europe and the US.
Testing exhibits that one in 85,000 folks in Australia has covid-19, in comparison with one in 50 within the UK.
Culturally, Australians are extra prepared to observe public orders than these within the UK and US, says MacIntyre.
“Cultural barriers to disease control can be overcome through good leadership, and we didn’t see that in the US,” she says. “We didn’t really see it in the UK either.”
Amid the brand new outbreaks, the Australian authorities has moved ahead its plan for mass vaccinations by a month. They’re now set to start out in February.
Stopping future circumstances escaping into the group from lodge quarantine might require higher safety for worldwide border employees, says MacIntyre. Measures akin to N95 respiratory tools and making certain that quarantine lodges are adequately ventilated will assist to minimise airborne transmission.
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