Airline pair test positive in Brisbane, but fly out again before results are in

Two airline crew members tested positive to COVID-19 in Queensland but were back on an outbound flight before they got the results.

Jan 19, 2021, updated Jan 19, 2021

The two women, who have unintentionally sparked an international contact-tracing effort, were among three new cases of COVID-19 reported in Queensland overnight. The third was a woman who had recently arrived from South Africa and, like the crew members, was tested in quarantine.

The continued absence of community transmission opens the way for southeast Queensland controls, such as mandatory masks in certain areas, to be eased on Friday, amid the continued easing of domestic border restrictions.

“More good news for Queensland,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said today.

Additional interstate travel between NSW and Victoria resumed overnight, and NSW reported only two new cases in overseas travellers already in quarantine. The ACT will also lift the hot spot declaration over Sydney’s northern beaches this afternoon.

Victoria reported four cases in overseas travellers, three of which were linked to the Australian Open tennis tournament, which remains under the spotlight amid internal complaints and external condemnation.

Victoria is reviewing some cases in NSW and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the remaining restrictions on travel from parts of Sydney would be lifted as soon as possible.

“Those red zone classifications will be in place not a moment longer than they need to be,” Andrews said.

Any more domestic travel will boost the beleaguered tourism and hospitality sectors – international travel may not resume until 2022, depending on the success of COVID-19 vaccines – however there will still be disruptions.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said masks were compulsory in airports and on planes and recommended in crowded public areas.

Young said the two crew members found to have had COVID-19 would have been infectious on the plane if theirs were acute cases. With the women no longer in Queensland, their health status is unknown, however an alert has gone to the airline.

“That is why we require masks on planes,” Young said.

While some flights have been delayed due to crew members testing positive in Australia, the two crew members had left again before their results came back. Cases among crew members in Sydney last year prompted a tightening of requirements.

”We won’t keep them (in quarantine until their results come back) because otherwise those planes can’t fly,” Young said, adding, however, that added precautions existed for domestic flights.

Young also revealed testing on people in hotel quarantine had revealed “quite a few positive for the UK strain” and requiring extended isolation. She expected the more contagious variant to become increasingly common.

Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor was shut down as a quarantine facility last week after six people connected to its seventh floor, either through returned travellers or a cleaner, tested positive to the UK strain of COVID-19.

Hundreds of people are being interviewed, surfaces and services being tested, and CCTV footage examined in an effort to determine how the virus breached quarantine.

Pressure on the hotel quarantine network is being eased as Australia limits the number of travellers allowed into the country while the impact of the UK strain is examined. The prospect of no international tourists for another year has Australia’s tourism sector concerned.

Visiting western Queensland today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison would not be drawn on whether the JobKeeper payments should be extended for the tourism sector or tourism-dependent regions such as Cairns.

“I’m not going to pre-empt or fly kites on these things, I don’t think that’s fair to people, we’ve been always upfront with people about what we’re going to do, when we’re going to do it and how we’re going to do it,” Morrison said.

“And I think that has given the nation a lot of confidence. And so it’s not for me to speculate. It’s for me to make sound decisions in the country’s interests.”

Young said the timing of the mass vaccination of Queenslanders – already being linked to the future ability to travel or even work – would depend on the availability of vaccines acquired by the Federal Government.

As competition for doses intensifies, the World Health Organisation has warned of at-risk populations missing out while young, healthy people in prosperous countries are protected.

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