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SA Health checking possible medi-hotel COVID transmission

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Health authorities are scrambling to discover whether a Melbourne man who tested positive to COVID-19 after serving 14 days in a South Australian medi-hotel was infected during his quarantine.

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Victoria’s Health Department issued an alert this morning saying the man returned to his home in Melbourne’s northern suburbs on May 4 after quarantining in South Australia following his arrival from overseas.

He stayed at the Playford medi-hotel, before returning to Victoria and later developing symptoms on Saturday, May 8.

He was tested on Monday and returned a positive result this morning.

Health Minister Stephen Wade told reporters this afternoon the SA Government was “working on the hypothesis that there has been transmission in the hotel”.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said: “It’s probably most likely that there has been a transmission in the Playford Hotel.”

She said the man’s room had been adjacent to “another traveller who was a positive case” – who only tested positive on Day 9 of his quarantine and who was then transferred out of the Playford to the Government’s dedicated COVID facility at Tom’s Court.

“There’s a number of potential hypotheses here and we’re working through all of those,” Spurrier said.

“One is this person was exposed prior to coming to SA and had a very, very long incubation period… [another is that] it’s something that’s happened in our quarantine system and this person has managed to catch COVID in the hotel setting.

“This is right on top of our mind in terms of seeing if this could have happened in SA.”

Spurrier said she was unsure which country the man travelled from, or when he started his quarantine in South Australia, but he arrived at a time when Australia had banned flights from India.

She said the Melbourne man was sent a SMS after his quarantine, on the 17th day after his initial test, “so it looks like he got symptoms the next day and got tested”.

“People have started to understand this is a particularly nasty and sneaky virus which is very easily transferred,” she said.

Spurrier said after various breaches in other states, and last year’s Parafield cluster, local authorities had “really looked meticulously at air conditioning” in medi-hotels.

“We’ve been very careful to make sure ventilation is excellent both in passageways and people’s rooms,” she said.

She said SA Health is still awaiting genomic results from Victoria to cross-check against the positive case in Tom’s Court, and was urgently testing other guests from the same floor of the Playford.

“Getting a positive test on day 9 in a medi-hotel is a bit of a warning sign for us,” she said.

“We did a review of the CCTV and there were no breaches at all.”

She said at no point has the Playford had any serious breaches, but added that “the team are going back and looking at that CCTV footage to see what could have happened”.

“We’ve gone and put all the checks and balances in place [to] make sure this little outbreak is contained,” she said.

“There certainly have been other guests in the time period – that’s of concern to us and the team is contacting them at the moment to make sure they get re-tested.”

She said of the Melbourne case: “I don’t think he was infectious here in SA, given the timing of his symptoms and the test result that’s come back in SA.”

SA Health is today interviewing the man and other people who quarantined on the same floor as him at the Playford Hotel.

Those who were quarantining on the same floor are required to get tested and isolate until they receive their result.

“The first thing I said to the team is we’ve got to make sure we’re not releasing anybody from that level three until we have a better idea of the situation and what I’m told is there’s just been new travellers that have come to that floor, so nobody is going to be released,” Spurrier said.

The chief health officer said she didn’t know whether anyone who was quarantining on the same level as the man was now out and about in the community.

“There’s certainly been guests in the time period that is of concern to us and our team is contacting them at the moment,” she said.

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