Two Victorians with links to Melbourne’s coronavirus outbreak have tested positive for Covid-19, after they drove into New South Wales and visited venues on the state’s south coast before joining the rush of residents that crossed back into Victoria before the border closed over the new year.
The pair’s diagnosis was revealed on Friday morning, after NSW and Victoria recorded eight new local Covid-19 cases in the last daily reporting period of 2020 – five in Melbourne and three mystery cases in western Sydney.
Having visited a hotel in Eden on Wednesday and a cafe in Bermagui on the morning of New Year’s Eve, the pair took Covid tests in NSW after being notified they were close contacts of confirmed cases who dined at the Buffalo Smile Thai restaurant in Melbourne’s Black Rock. It was not immediately clear when they learned of their close contact status, but the Victorian government stressed there was no suggestion they had done anything wrong.
Authorities continued their efforts to quash the resurgence of local coronavirus transmission that first appeared on Sydney’s northern beaches in the lead-up to Christmas, and which authorities in Victoria believe later spread to Melbourne via a traveller returning from the harbour city.
Amid reports on Friday that Victorian testing centres had to turn people away after being overwhelmed by an influx of returning residents, authorities there focused attention on the their efforts on the Buffalo Smile restaurant, which has been linked to five of Victoria’s 10 coronavirus cases this week.
Jeroen Weimar, Victoria’s Covid response commander, said that before the returning pair’s diagnosis, contact tracers had established “two separate groups of people who are unknown to each other who were adjacent with each other” in the restaurant. There were 170 close contacts in the state in isolation and “hundreds” more secondary contacts, he said.
Meanwhile, three mystery cases in western Sydney were disclosed by New South Wales on Friday.
The new cases are a man in his 40s and a man in his 20s, with the third case – also a man in his 20s – a close contact of one of the others. Experts are unclear about the transmission link with the city’s previous cases.
The three new cases were detected from 32,010 tests conducted in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday, and Chant urged residents of western Sydney to get tested in coming days, specifically in the suburbs of Greystanes, Auburn, Berala and Lidcombe.
Chant also revealed that genomic sequencing of cases from the Croydon cluster in Sydney’s inner west had shown the virus strain in those cases was linked to the northern beaches cluster – which sits at 146 cases – and to the two cases reported in Wollongong earlier in the week.
But she stressed that as experts are yet to establish the transmission events that spread the strain across the city, authorities were still categorising them as three active coronavirus clusters in Sydney.
The NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has resisted calls to tighten Covid-19 measures despite Victoria introducing an indoor mask mandate on Thursday, said the state would adjust its settings “if we feel that there is too many cases that are completely unlinked or unrelated, or something pops out unexpectedly”.
“We are always concerned when cases pop up which we can’t establish a link for at this stage and that’s why those cases in western Sydney are a big concern for us,” Berejiklian said.
Speaking in Canberra, Scott Morrison said he was “encouraged” by the case numbers from NSW and Victoria, and he understood the frustration of those inconvenienced by sudden state and territory border closures.
“As much as we would like there to be greater consistency across all of these things, we must respect their jurisdictional authority because they are ultimately responsible for what would happen in their state,” the prime minister said.
Morrison also said he would “love to” attend the Sydney cricket Test next week, but he would not be there because of the Australian Capital Territory’s isolation requirement for returnees from Sydney.
Earlier this week the chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said he would not take his family to the Test because of concerns over coronavirus transmission.
In March, at the press conference where he announced a 500-person limit on public gatherings would take effect in coming days, Morrison famously declared he would attend a Cronulla Sharks NRL match, before reversing the commitment hours later.
On Friday, Kelly supported Morrison’s comments that Australia would take “no short cuts” in approving a Covid-19 vaccine.
Kelly said: “There’s not a single major regulator in the world that has given full approval for any vaccine at the moment. There have been particular emergency use authorisations in several countries, in Europe, in the UK, and the US in particular, but they’re in an extremely difficult and different situation in relation to this pandemic compared to Australia.”