The ‘small number’ of Qld virus victims adding up to one very big concern

Queensland Health is investigating the silent spread of novel coronavirus as experts foreshadow the use of new tests to give people a medical clearance or monitor COVID-19 rates across an entire community.

Apr 07, 2020, updated Apr 07, 2020
Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young (right), with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young (right), with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Prime Minister Scott Morrison today urged people to continue practicing social distancing over the Easter long weekend or risk further outbreaks.

Amid concerns that some Queenslanders might have the virus and not show symptoms serious enough to warrant health attention, but still be contagious, key hotspots have come under further scrutiny to determine the extent of community transmission.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said there were 32 cases of COVID-19 not explained by contact with an infected person or recent overseas travel. As a result, people presenting with respiratory illnesses in Brisbane, Cairns and on the Gold Coast will be tested for COVID-19 even if they haven’t had contact or travel, to help determine whether there is widespread community transmission.

“We’re not sure where those 32 people acquired the infection,” Young said, with around 500 such cases nation-wide.

“It’s a small number, particularly compared to what we’ve seen happening in New South Wales and Victoria, but it’s enough that I’d like to do a little bit more testing.”

Her comments came after renowned health researcher Professor Ian Frazer, a Committee for Brisbane Advisory Board Member, foreshadowed new tests to demonstrate whether someone has recovered from COVID-19 and is no longer contagious or at risk.

It would represent a new phase in the pandemic, where tests are not only used to diagnose sick people, but give others clearance to return to work and help the economy recover.

“Hopefully the new test will get a tick (of approval from regulators) and then community testing can be used to find the many who have had the infection and don’t know it,” Frazer said on Friday.

“The test would show that they are now recovered and would be safe to go back to work.”

Queensland has 934 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 170 people so far recovering from the disease.

The Federal Government’s Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, said Australia was on track to flatten the curve and keep the number of cases within the capacity of intensive care units. Australian data on COVID-19 has not yet been modelled.

At a community level, wastewater testing is already used to determine the prevalence of illicit drug use – the University of Queensland helps prepare annual law enforcement reports – and is being contemplated as a new source of COVID-19 information.

Professor Kevin Thomas from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences said wastewater testing could potentially be used to establish when a community has been infected, or cleared an infection, or to check whether the diagnosed cases reflect the reality.

“Most importantly it may be a useful tool for monitoring spatio-temporal changes in infection and monitor the efficacy of measures put in place to ‘flatten the curve’,” Thomas told InQueensland on behalf of his team.

“From an epidemiological perspective, there is also the benefit in detecting if the virus is mutating out from epicentres or if new strains are introduced from external locations, and/or the frequency that this occurs.”

Health Minister Steven Miles said more than 58,000 people had already been tested and there was capacity to expand the eligibility criteria in those hotspots.

“Our case numbers are slowing down and I congratulate the overwhelming majority of Queenslanders for doing the right thing but we need to remember that five people have so far lost their lives to this disease,” Miles said.

“Instead of being complacent, we are working hard on finding more ways to protect Queenslanders from this disease.”

The Prime Minister had a similar message, as he gave further details of economic measures to help manage rental pressure in the hope businesses will rebound when the pandemic eventually passes.

“This Easter weekend will be incredibly important,” Morrison said this afternoon, warning any reduction in effort would “completely undo” the nation’s progress.

“Stay. At. Home.”


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