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Virgin Australia flight attendant’s COVID-19 infection puts three states on alert as Greater Sydney goes into lockdown

Health authorities are scrambling to contact passengers on five flights after a Sydney-based Virgin cabin crew member tested positive to COVID-19.

They tested positive after a rapid result test on Saturday night, Virgin says.

The five flights on Friday and Saturday took passengers either to or from Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast.

“The crew member is now in isolation, and Virgin Australia is rapidly contacting all team members who are close contacts,” the airline said in a statement.

“Virgin Australia is requiring those crew members to cease flying, get tested and isolate.

“All passengers on flights the crew member operated will be contacted by health authorities and advised on the correct protocol.”

All of Greater Sydney will go into a two-week lockdown from 6pm on Saturday, as health authorities work to contain a “concerning” coronavirus outbreak and a growing list of exposure sites. 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the extension of current lockdown measures after a crisis Cabinet meeting on Saturday, and as the state recorded 12 new locally-acquired infections. 

Stay-at-home orders have been extended to apply to all people in Greater Sydney – including the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, Wollongong and now Shellharbour – from 6pm on Saturday until midnight on 9 July.

Initially, the stay-at-home orders applied only to four Sydney local government areas – Woollahra, Waverley, Randwick, and the City of Sydney. 

“The NSW government has always prided itself on taking the expert health advice,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“Even though we don’t want to impose burdens unless we absolutely have to, unfortunately this is a situation where we have to. I said that this is the scariest time since the pandemic started, and that’s proven to be the case.”

Under the orders, everyone in Greater Sydney must stay at home unless it is for an essential reason, including shopping for food or other essential goods and services, medical care or compassionate needs – including a COVID-19 vaccination – exercising outdoors in groups of 10 or fewer, or essential work or education if you cannot study or work at home. 

Weddings will not be permitted from 11:59pm on Sunday 27 June, while funerals will be limited to one person per four square metres with a cap of 100 people, and masks worn indoors. 

Community sport will not be allowed during the lockdown period. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged people to remain calm.

“This is a necessary decision that has been taken by the NSW government,” he said in a video posted on Facebook. “A decision that they have not rushed to – that they have sought to prevent. But at the end of the day this is what is necessary to stay on top of this latest outbreak.”

“We get through them (the impacts) by looking after each other and following these commonsense measures that have been put in place.” 

Financial support for businesses expected within days

Ms Berejiklian urged people not to panic buy nor worry about their finances, with shops remaining open and the state government set to announce financial support in the coming days. 

Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Michael Kidd, said the federal government has now declared Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast and Wollongong COVID-19 hotspots, meaning federal support payments of up $500 will be extended to those areas

“It’s never easy when all of us have to face these circumstances, but we’re all in the same situation,” Ms Berejiklian said. “We’ve had to do this before. We know the drill.” 

Members of the public wait to be tested for COVID-19 at a pop up clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Saturday, 26 June, 2021.

Members of the public wait to be tested for COVID-19 at a pop up clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Saturday, 26 June, 2021.

AAP

Anyone who has been in Greater Sydney on or after 21 June should follow the stay-at-home orders for 14 days after they left the region. 

Restrictions will also be in introduced for regional NSW to prevent any further seeding events of COVID-19 into the regions. Visitors to households will be limited to five guests – including children – and masks will be compulsory in all indoor non-residential settings, including workplaces, and at organised outdoor events. 

The one person per four square metre rule will be re-introduced for all indoor and outdoor settings, including weddings and funerals, while outdoor seated, ticketed events will be limited to 50 per cent capacity. 

Review after seven days

Ms Berejiklian said a two-week lockdown is needed to get on top of community transmission of the highly-contagious Delta variant, but that health authorities will re-assess the situation after seven days. 

“If after seven days there’s a dramatic change in the trend, we’ll obviously evaluate the situation,” she said.

“But I want to be very upfront with the public – this will be, for all intents and purposes, a two-week lockdown.

“The best advice from NSW Health is that we should brace ourselves for additional cases.” 

The official case tally for Saturday was 29 infections, including 17 that were previously announced, out of over 55,220 tests. All but one of the new cases is linked to an existing cluster. 

But the state’s chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said only 12 of the 29 new cases were in isolation throughout their infectious period. 

“The situation overnight has highlighted that an increasing number of people have been undetected and infectious in the community, and those exposure sites have spread,” Dr Chant said at an earlier press conference on Saturday. 

“Largely they were contained in the four LGAs, but now we are seeing the spread to exposure venues outside of those four LGAs, and that is the basis for my growing concern.”

Exposure sites spread beyond four local government areas

Residents are being urged to monitor the expanding list of exposure sites, which now includes venues in the Northern Beaches, Lakemba and Auburn. Another two train routes were added on Friday night. 

Two of the new cases were linked to Great Ocean Foods in the inner-west suburb of Marrickville. Anyone who worked at, attended or was a customer at the food wholesaler from 21 to 25 June, along with their household contacts, are considered a close contact and must immediately get tested and isolate for 14 days, regardless of the result. 

Anyone who received a delivery from Great Ocean Foods during that time, along with their household members, must also immediately get tested and isolate until further advice from NSW Health. 

NSW Health has also been notified of additional venues across Sydney visited by confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Anyone who attended Cheers Bar & Grill in inner-city Sydney between 1:45 – 3:30am on 20 June, or Rebel at Bankstown Shopping Centre between 3:45-4:30pm on 24 June must immediately get tested and isolate for 14 days, regardless of the result. 

Plea for compliance to fight increased infectiousness of Delta variant

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard urged people to modify their behaviour to fight the increased infectiousness of the Delta variant. 

“The emphasis now is to defeat this virus, we all need to stop moving around unless we absolutely have to,” he said. 

“Don’t play games with yourself and with the community. Please stay at home unless you really need to go out or you have one of the four reasons, and even then, think twice before you do it.”

A professor of epidemiology at UNSW, Marylouise McLaws, said it is critical that the public health response and individual behaviour is adapted to respond to the increased potency of the Delta variant. 

“Delta is about 90 per cent more infectious than we’ve seen before with the wild strains. I mean Alpha was really infectious – about 33 per cent more. But this is double that.

“So compared to the background of wild strains, it can be up to 70 per cent – or even up to 90 per cent – more infectious than we’ve ever dealt with before.”

Limousine driver won’t be charged

Meanwhile, NSW Police on Saturday confirmed the driver who transported international flight crew, and who NSW Health considers the “index case” for the Bondi cluster, won’t be charged. 

“Yesterday, I advised we had sent the case for urgent external legal advice due to the significance of this outbreak and the community concern,” Commissioner Mike Fuller said in a statement. 

“I can now confirm we have received advice that there is insufficient evidence to establish that either the limousine driver or his employer breached any public health orders.”

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