Health authorities are scrambling to retest just under 30 miners who returned to South Australia from a Northern Territory mine over the weekend, after one – a man in his 30s – his wife and three of his children tested COVID-19 positive in Adelaide yesterday.
The miner became infected after one of his co-workers at the Newmont-owned Tanami gold mine tested positive on Friday June 25.
The mine, which is 540-kilometres northwest of Alice Springs, has already been linked to 10 other positive cases of the highly contagious Delta strain.
The Adelaide man was one of about 900 fly-in fly-out workers who returned to their homes across the country before the initial positive case was detected.
He arrived in Adelaide at 5pm on Friday on Virgin Flight VA1742. He wore a mask on the flight and through the airport.
His wife, aged in her 30s, picked him up from the airport.
The couple stopped to pick up take-away food on their way home. Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier told reporters she could not say where the couple purchased the food.
She said SA Health was still determining whether there were close contacts linked to the takeaway shop.
The man was told by the Tanami mine to get tested on Friday night. He returned an initial negative test result after visiting the Victoria Park testing clinic on Saturday morning, despite already displaying minor symptoms.
Spurrier said she suspected that the test result was a “false negative”.
The man later developed coronavirus symptoms while isolating at home and he, his wife, and two of his four children tested positive yesterday.
The two COVID-positive children are aged under 10. Another child, also aged under 10, is presumed COVID-positive. The fourth child – a baby – is not COVID-positive.
The entire family were today transferred to the Tom’s Court medi-hotel – a dedicated facility for positive cases.
They had been isolating at home since Saturday and Premier Steven Marshall said they were not out in the community while infectious.
He said there was a “low risk” that the miner was contagious while he was on the flight, however as a precaution all 108 passengers have been ordered to isolate and get tested.
In response to the new positive cases, South Australian authorities have reduced the maximum number of people allowed at home gatherings to 10 people.
Authorities are also “strongly recommending” that people wear facemasks when they are out in public and to work from home if they can’t socially distance at their workplace and they are not deemed essential workers.
The new restrictions only apply to people in metropolitan Adelaide, the Barossa, Fleurieu Peninsula, Mt Barker and the Adelaide Hills.
Alice Springs will enter a 72-hour lockdown from 1pm, after it was discovered the Adelaide man spent about six hours at the Alice Springs Airport on Friday before boarding his flight to Adelaide.
The Northern Territory’s Chief Minister Michael Gunner said it was unlikely that he was highly infectious during his time at the airport, “but, like all other other decisions we will not take a punt on this”.
There’s still a risk, but in this case we are satisfied that this is the appropriate response for today
Spurrier said so far, the other 28 miners in South Australia have not returned positive test results, but Marshall said there was still a “definite risk”.
Marshall said South Australians would be “extraordinarily relieved” that they would not be forced into lockdown, despite the “concerning turn of events”.
He said South Australia had avoided a potential “catastrophic situation” and thanked the family for following health advice and isolating.
“If we had information that this person (the miner) had been out and about in the broader community and visited and created dozens and dozens of additional exposure sites I don’t think there would have been any other choice (to go into lockdown), because we just know how transmissible this disease is,” he said.
“There’s still a risk, but in this case we are satisfied that this is the appropriate response for today.
“While this is a very concerning turn of events and having this Delta variant in South Australia we are very relieved that this person and this family have been at home since Saturday very significantly reducing the risk to our state.”
Marshall said the family went into self-isolation on Saturday, despite not being formally ordered to do so by SA Health until Sunday.
Spurrier said the Delta variant had almost a “100 per cent hit rate in infections to those close contacts except if people have been vaccinated”.
She said authorities were still trying to determine whether the takeaway store visited by the couple needed to be listed as an exposure site.
“The most important thing first is for our contact tracers to get clear information about where that person was at the takeaway store,” she said.
“If there were just at the drive-in and all they have done is interact with one person then the most important thing is to have that person located, tested and if they are negative nothing more needs to be done.”
Spurrier urged South Australians to get tested if they develop coronavirus symptoms, book appointments to get vaccinated and check-in to places using QR codes.
SA Health approves private overseas flight
Meanwhile, SA Health has confirmed it allowed a family of three to fly in from South-East Asia to Adelaide last week on a privately-funded medevac flight.
As originally reported by the ABC, SA Health and federal authorities sanctioned the flight and arranged ground transport and the use of a medi-hotel.
Authorities knew the family was COVID-positive before approving the flight.
In a statement, deputy chief public health officer Dr Emily Kirkpatrick said that the child had been cleared of COVID-19, but the man and woman were active cases and had been relocated to Tom’s Court.
“The flight’s crew was managed as per the international arrivals process,” Kirkpatrick said.
“The crew had a one-night layover in a medi-hotel, tested negative and returned overseas.”
Spurrier said she was not sure whether the family was infected with the delta strain.
She said medevac retrievals were used when people were sick in the region.
“This actually happens on a fairly regular basis in the eastern states, such as Queensland and New South Wales, because of course they’re a little bit closer to many of those regions,” she said.
“In this instance this family live in Adelaide, so they were returning residents, and this is why this medevac retrieval was organised in this way.”
Spurrier said the approval was “not about wealth”.
“I can understand why people may be confused, but this is a pre-existing arrangement and it’s not about people chartering their own flight usually, it’s usually they are there working,” she said.
“My understanding is the travel insurance covers those costs.”
Marshall said he had no knowledge of the approval and it wasn’t “politically linked”.
The family was repatriated by an international medical retrieval service which was privately funded.
Four new coronavirus cases were reported in Queensland today, one of which is an overseas arrival in hotel quarantine.
The other three are locally-acquired and are all close contacts of previous cases.
New South Wales reported 22 new locally-acquired cases this morning, while Victoria’s run of days without a local COVID-19 case has ended at three, with a primary close contact testing positive.
The outbreaks interstate and news of today’s new cases in South Australia have prompted panic buying across the state, with some supermarkets already running out of toilet paper supplies.
Marshall described panic buying as a “natural human behaviour”, but urged people to be sensible.
“(There’s) no lockdown in South Australia, (there’s) no need whatsoever for panic buying,” he said.
All up, South Australia recorded 11 new coronavirus cases today, but six of those are overseas travellers who are in medi-hotel quarantine.
Crows and Port to travel to Victoria
In a statement issued this afternoon, the AFL said the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide would travel to Victoria this afternoon via a charter flight ahead of their Round 16 matches.
The Crows were to play the Brisbane Lions at Adelaide Oval on Saturday, but ticket sales were suspended this morning.
The Port versus Hawthorn match was already scheduled to be played at Marvel Stadium on Saturday night.
The AFL said it would provide an update to the Crows match once arrangements have been finalised.
“Bringing the two South Australian teams to Victoria today minimises the risk for the competition as we progress the season in a constantly changing environment,” AFL executive general manager clubs and broadcasting Travis Auld said.
“As of this evening we will have all 18 teams in Victoria and, as a competition, we will continue to remain adaptable where required.
“The two teams travelling today will fly to Victoria via a charter flight and will remain in the state ahead of this round’s matches.”
– with AAP
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