The Australian Open has been plunged into chaos with players and staff forced into lockdown and millions of Melburnians living with new restrictions after a quarantine worker tested positive to Covid-19.
A testing blitz is now underway with 600 tennis stars, officials and support staff identified as close contacts of the 26-year-old, who worked at the Grand Hyatt hotel.
The worker is expected to have contracted the ultra-infectious UK mutant strain, and has a ‘high viral load’ – meaning any close contact may have received a high enough dose to become infected.
More infectious than other variants of Covid-19, it has already spread from one hotel room to another at another Melbourne quarantine facility – with officials fearing even doors opening at the same time could let the mutant in.
In a late night press conference on Wednesday, Mr Andrews announced household gathering limits would be slashed in half to just 15 and masks would once again be mandatory indoors.
As a result of the testing blitz and isolation orders, all Melbourne Summer Series matches at Melbourne Park on Thursday have been cancelled.
Serena Williams (pictured on Wednesday) is one the stars due to play on Thursday. Her match has now been postponed, with the entire tournament now in question
600 Australian Open staff, players and officials have now been forced to isolate (pictured, cleaners at Melbourne Park on January 31)
Ash Barty, Nick Kyrgios, Serena Williams, Stan Wawrinka, Victoria Azarenka and Naomi Osaka were just a few of the big name tennis stars due to play, with international stars only just free from quarantine.
The exposed players and staff, roughly half of the 1,200 flown into Australia and now released from their 14-day mandatory quarantine, can return to training after testing negative.
‘There will be no matches at Melbourne Park on Thursday. An update on the schedule for Friday will be announced later today,’ Australian Open tweeted.
The statewide restrictions, which came into effect from 11:59pm Wednesday, are the same as those imposed following the Black Rock cluster in late December.
‘We have to assume that this person has in fact infected others. And it’s through that abundance of caution that I’m announcing (the restrictions),’ Mr Andrews said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (pictured) has reimposed restrictions across the state after an Australian Open hotel quarantine worker became infected with Covid
He begged anyone with Covid-like symptoms to come forward for testing without delay but urged residents not to panic over the worker’s positive case.
‘This is one case. There is no need for people to panic, there is no need for people to be alarmed,’ Mr Andrews said.
The 26-year-old man from Noble Park, Melbourne’s southeast, who was working as a resident support officer for the Australian Open quarantine program, tested positive on Wednesday.
His positive test ended Victoria’s 28-day run of zero locally acquired cases of coronavirus.
The man has been moved to a health hotel and his household contacts have been put into isolation.
The infected 26-year-old man from Noble Park last worked at the Grand Hyatt hotel (pictured) in Melbourne’s CBD on January 29
Mr Andrews said the new Covid case may have an impact on an Australian Open lead-up event on Thursday but did not foresee it would have an effect on the tournament itself.
‘There’s a number of about 500 or 600 people that are either players and officials and others who are casual contacts. They will be isolating until they get a negative test,’ Mr Andrews said.
The man last worked at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne’s CBD on January 29 and returned a negative test that day. It is unclear how he became infected.
‘Subsequently, he’s developed symptoms, gone and got tested, and has tested positive. That result has come back (Wednesday),’ Mr Andrews said.
MELBOURNE’S BOMBSHELL LOCKDOWN: WHAT WE KNOW
- Worker, 26, at Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt hotel has tested positive to Covid-19 and is believed to have the highly-infectious mutant strain from the UK
- As many as 600 Australian Open staffers, players and officials had ‘close contact’ with the support worker at the hotel
- All close contacts must go back into isolation until they test negative, meaning all of Thursday’s matches are postponed
- New restrictions have been imposed on Melburnians, including mandatory masks indoors and limits of 15 people in a home
- Daniel Andrews fears the man has already infected other people, but insisted locals should not panic
He said while it was unclear how the man became infected, CCTV footage was being examined.
Mr Andrews confirmed authorities had not identified any breaches in the hotel quarantine program. He did not give a timeline for how long the restrictions would last.
The state’s chief medical officer, Professor Brett Sutton, said: ‘I think the testing of this individual indicates that he probably had a high viral load.
‘That’s what the test results show. For his very close contacts, I think there is a risk that they’ll potentially become cases.’
The 75 per cent ‘return to work’ cap in both public and private sectors scheduled for Monday has been paused as part of the restrictions.
Residents who have any Covid-like symptoms are urged to get tested as soon as testing clinics open from 8am on Thursday (pictured, health workers in Melbourne)
An urgent alert has gone out for a number of venues across southeast Melbourne which are listed as exposure sites after they were visited by the infected individual.
The venues, which the man visited between January 30 and February 1, include the Kmart at Brandon Park, Bunnings at Springvale and Coles, also at Springvale.
Anyone who has visited these exposure sites during the times listed must immediately isolate, get a coronavirus test and remain isolated for 14 days.
The man is a Country Fire Authority volunteer and had attended at least one function, with venue deep-cleaning and contact tracing underway.
Mr Andrews said testing was paramount and told residents not to delay presenting to testing sites, which open from 8am.
The Bunnings Warehouse at Springvale (pictured) has been listed as an exposure site for the time of 11:28am to 12:15pm on February 1
The Coles supermarket at Springvale (pictured) has been listed as an exposure site for the time between 5pm to 6pm on January 31
From 11:59pm on Wednesday across Victoria:
– The limit on the number of people gathering in a household will be reduced from 30 to 15, meaning the household members plus 15 visitors (excluding children under 12 months of age)
– Masks will be mandatory in public indoor spaces. If you have visitors in your home, it is strongly recommended that masks are worn during the visit. Masks must be worn in indoor public spaces apart from when eating or drinking
– The 75 per cent ‘return to work’ cap in both public and private sectors scheduled for Monday, February 8 will be paused and the current cap of 50 per cent will remain in place
‘If you’ve got symptoms or you’ve been at one of these sites, you’ve got to get tested. You can’t wait till tomorrow afternoon. You’ve got to go first thing tomorrow morning.’
Mr Andrews said he was confident the state would be able to contain the new case without it spreading exponentially.
The Victorian Department of Health said its public health teams are investigating the new case and close contacts are being notified.
A security guard at a quarantine hotel in Perth tested positive for Covid on Saturday, sending the city and Peel and South West regions into a snap five-day lockdown.
Back in Melbourne, two separate groups of guests in adjacent rooms at Melbourne’s Park Royal Hotel tested positive for the more infectious B117 coronavirus variant, first detected in the UK.
Victoria’s Police Minister Lisa Neville, responsible for overseeing the revamped hotel quarantine program, said genomics had shown the infections were identical.
‘That means it’s as if they have been in the same room together,’ she told reporters on Wednesday.
One of the groups, a family of five who are all now infected with the virus, arrived from Nigeria on January 20 and tested positive four days later.
Club Noble at Noble Park (pictured) has been listed as an exposure site for the time between 2:36pm to 3:30pm on January 30
Monday, February 1:
– Bunnings: Springvale – 11:28am to 12:15pm
– Golf Academy: Heatherton – 5:19pm to 6:30pm
Sunday, January 31:
– Northpoint Café: Brighton – 8:10am to 9:30am
– Kmart: Keysborough – 4pm to 5pm
– Kmart: Brandon Park – 4:35pm to 5:10pm
– Coles: Springvale – 5pm to 6pm
Saturday, January 30:
– Club Noble: Noble Park – 2:36pm to 3:30pm
– Aces Sporting Club (Driving Range): Keysborough – 10pm to 11:15pm
A fellow returned traveller in an adjacent room, who restarted her 14-day quarantine stint after her husband arrived on January 16, twice tested negative before returning a positive result on January 28.
Questions remain over how the woman in her 60s became infected, given her partner’s day three and 11 swabs were negative.
Ms Neville said security footage outside the rooms had been reviewed, with no indication of any breach of protocols by the families or staff during their stay.
‘The viral load in the room of the family of five… was so high that just even opening the door to pick up your food has seen the virus get into the corridor,’ she said.
‘That is the working assumption. There has been absolutely no kids running down corridors or movement between the rooms at all.’
The infected woman remembers opening her door at the same time as the room next door but she has not been able to pinpoint the exact date or time.
Deputy Chief Health Officer Melanie Van Twest said authorities believe the potential room leak stemmed from the family’s collective infectiousness in combination with the potent UK strain.
‘This might be a Swiss cheese line of holes where everything has lined up to create this particular event,’ she said.
The alert comes after two separate groups of guests in adjacent rooms at Melbourne’s Park Royal Hotel tested positive for the more infectious UK coronavirus variant
The Victorian Department of Health said its public health teams are investigating the new case and close contacts are being notified
‘As far as we know, there’s no community transmission. This has happened within the hotel. It’s contained.’
The hotel’s ventilation system will be reviewed, although Ms Neville said an earlier report had found no air was being shared between rooms or into common spaces.
‘It’s probably unlikely to have been the ventilation system in this case,’ she said.
All positive cases have been moved to a health hotel and remain in isolation, while the husband of the infected woman has been moved to another room.
Some 100 hotel quarantine staff members and 37 returned travellers who have completed their 14 days on the impacted floor are now self-isolating at home. None have tested positive thus far.