Tighter quarantine rules for air crew on the cards after driver contracts coronavirus

A Sydney van driver for international air crew has been diagnosed with COVID-19, ending NSW’s 12-day streak without a locally acquired case and sparking calls for tighter quarantine rules for airline staff.

Dec 16, 2020, updated Dec 16, 2020
Airline staff are exempt from the mandated 14-day hotel quarantine and can self-isolate in a home or accommodation. Photo: ABC News/Andrew Greaves

Airline staff are exempt from the mandated 14-day hotel quarantine and can self-isolate in a home or accommodation. Photo: ABC News/Andrew Greaves

However, Acting Queensland Premier Steven Miles said the state was not yet considering tightening its state borders in response.

The 45-year-old man, who drives vans ferrying international air crew, was first symptomatic on Saturday but did not get tested until Tuesday afternoon.

He was confirmed virus-positive on Wednesday morning.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the case that while the virus seemed to be contained in terms of community transmission, there was still exposure around Australia’s borders.

“We may be an island, but we are not totally isolated from the pandemic that is raging across the world.”

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the man worked only with air crew members and was not involved in regular taxi services for the public. He wore a mask while working and took all necessary precautions.

The other three members of his household have been isolated and tested for the virus, while contact tracing is underway.

Miles said the circumstances of the new case were  concerning, but the government was not considering fresh border restrictions “at this stage”.

He told reporters the fact the case had been found could be a good thing.

“What the chief health officers will now need to determine is what level of community exposure there has been to this person, as well as what the link is to known cases and that’s what they’ll be working on over the next few days.

“We’ve talked about how important that first 48 hours is.”

Hazzard said at least 2000 international air crew members were touching down in Sydney each week, with turnarounds of up to 72 hours before flying out again.

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While they did not have total liberty, air crew had more freedom of movement than returned travellers in hotel quarantine, who cannot leave their rooms.

Hazzard said that if National Cabinet did not establish a nationwide regime for arriving air crew, NSW may implement changes unilaterally.

That would entail placing air crew in full hotel quarantine, but only until their next flight out of the country.

“Our inclination is to say to international air crews and airlines … crews coming in to NSW will be most likely to be required to quarantine in the same way as other international visitors,” he said.

“We need to be cognisant of the need to work with the airlines to make sure their air crew are able to come in to NSW and Australia, but also to make sure they do it in a safe way.”

The COVID-positive case’s employer, Sydney Ground Transport in inner Sydney’s Alexandria, has ceased operations while contact tracing is underway.

One COVID-19 patient in NSW is currently in intensive care.


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