Outback alert: Cabin crew carried virus to Longreach, Gladstone, Hervey Bay

For the first time since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has made it to Longreach – via a QantasLink flight attendant. Authorities are worried the virus could already be spreading across Queensland.

Jul 23, 2021, updated Jul 23, 2021
Grounding a huge part of our airline fleets has helped slash emissions. (Photo: AAP Image/Darren England)

Grounding a huge part of our airline fleets has helped slash emissions. (Photo: AAP Image/Darren England)

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young today revealed the flight attendant, who lives in the Brisbane suburb of Banyo, had worked on six regional flights while infectious in the two days before she showed symptoms on July 13. She stayed in a Gladstone hotel, and was in Brisbane and regional airports, where CCTV footage is now being used to pinpoint her movements.

However, the woman did not get tested until July 21 – she has told contact tracers she stayed home in Brisbane while sick – which raises the potential for the virus to have already spread beyond any passengers and other close contacts.

The woman, in her thirties, has the specific Delta variant linked to the Sydney outbreak, as well as a previous Virgin crew case, and previously travelled into NSW. Queensland Health is now trying to isolate and test scores of passengers, with new testing stations being established, as it investigates the woman’s movements over the last fortnight.

“I don’t know the specifics of why she decided to delay (being tested), that’s being discussed with her now,” Young said.

“I would have far preferred she got tested on the 13th of July, of course I would have.”

Masks would have been worn on flights, and around airports, and sewage testing has not raised any red flags in Longreach, Gladstone or Hervey Bay. However, the regions have not been on the same heightened alert as south-east Queensland and Townsville since the recent lockdown.

With COVID-19 not having been reported before now in Longreach, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath today emphasised it was not just a south-east Queensland problem and could affect communities anywhere and at any time.

Sewage testing has found viral fragments in Byron Bay, which is within the border bubble established when Queensland effectively closed the border with NSW early this morning.

Young said the Byron Bay situation emphasised the need for people in the bubble to still limit their movement, and get tested when necessary.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles said the border bubble itself was at risk if there were infections and people not following the rules.

Young is also giving greater scrutiny to the bubble afforded to the National Rugby League competition, as it continues in Queensland, after reports of repeated quarantine breaches.

She effectively issued a final warning to administrators, players and their families, saying she was “very concerned” by the breaches and would not hesitate to act in future.

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“This is too risky, we just cannot have people deliberately breaching the rules,” Young said.

Queensland has already moved to limit the capacity of major stadia, and require masks to be worn for longer periods, as part of the trade-off for other social distancing restrictions easing around Brisbane today.

Masks are still mandatory in Brisbane and D’Ath suggested Queenslanders in other areas might also want to don masks for protection.

There are already 5,741 people in hotel or home quarantine in Queensland, and the number will continue to grow over the weekend.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will have to quarantine for two weeks upon her return to Queensland from the Tokyo Olympics.

Miles said Cabinet colleague Glenn Butcher was on a Gladstone flight crewed by the infected Qantas flight attendant and has already been tested and isolated.

The flights in question were: on July 11, QF2534 from Brisbane to Longreach, QF2535 from Longreach to Brisbane, and QF2346 from Brisbane to Gladstone; and, on July 12, QF2331 from Gladstone to Brisbane, QF2374 from Brisbane to Hervey Bay, and QF2375 from Hervey Bay to Brisbane.

Young said if no passengers tested positive to COVID-19 “the anxiety will spread to Brisbane” where the flight attendant has been for over a week. She foreshadowed a list of exposure sites being released this afternoon.

Given the time that has passed, Young said it may not be possible to determine how the flight attendant was infected and whether there are missing links to the Sydney outbreak.

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