Queensland recorded no new cases of Covid-19 on day two of Brisbane’s snap three-day lockdown, and a new case linked to the New South Wales northern beaches cluster has not stopped tough stay-at-home restrictions being lifted.
Fears about the spread of a highly transmissible United Kingdom variant of the virus in Queensland have, so far, not translated into any new locally acquired cases.
The state announced on Sunday that no new cases of community transmission were detected from 19,152 tests in the previous 24 hours, boosting hopes that greater Brisbane could avoid a major outbreak after its three-day lockdown, which is due to end on Monday night. There were no local cases reported on Saturday either.
Contacts of the Brisbane quarantine hotel cleaner infected with the UK strain have overwhelmingly returned negative results. Of the 147 close contacts, about 122 have tested negative and are in isolation. The remaining results still to come in.
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, greeted the news with relief and cautious optimism, saying “so far, so good”. She said the state’s world-leading approach was the envy of some in the UK, which recorded 1,035 deaths overnight, surpassing the grim total of 80,000 during the pandemic.
“We have taken this decisive action, it’s the right thing to do, and let’s see what our numbers are tomorrow and then we will update Queensland about what the proposed steps forward are following on from that,” Palaszczuk said.
Case numbers again remained low in NSW, where the government said it was in a “mopping-up” phase, attempting to eradicate any remaining chains of community transmission.
Three new locally transmitted cases were recorded from 24,000 tests, two linked to the Berala cluster in Sydney’s west, which has grown to 23 cases, and one linked to the northern beaches cluster, now responsible for 150 cases.
The two Berala cases were a woman and man in their 30s, who were both close contacts of a previously confirmed case. The case linked to the northern beaches involved a young man from the southern zone.
All three had been in the community while infectious and the state has updated its list of potential exposure sites.
The emergence of the new cases did not stop the lockdown in the northern region of the northern beaches being lifted on Sunday. The news was welcomed with relief across the northern beaches which has endured a torrid time over the Christmas and new year break.
The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the lockdown was difficult, given the time of year, but it had helped the state avert a crisis.
“When you look back … in one weekend we had about 60 people get the virus through two local events – that could have been a major outbreak of substantial disastrous proportions,” Berejiklian said.
“The community transmission overnight demonstrates that whilst the main threat of those clusters – both the Avalon cluster and then the related Berala cluster – has to some extent subsided, we are still mopping up and that’s why all of us have to be on high alert. It only takes one or two cases to get out of control … for all of us to be in a situation where we have to consider making things tighter.”
The chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said the next fortnight would prove critical for NSW and she urged vigilance. Widespread testing and compliance to physical distancing and mask-wearing requirements were critical, Chant said.
“Clearly we have seen the levels of case numbers decline, but we’re always worried that we’re missing cases,” she said. “High rates of testing and knowing that the community is turning out whenever they have symptoms gives us that assurance.”
A heartening result was also recorded in Victoria, which posted its fourth day in a row of zero locally transmitted cases after 23,412 tests in the 24 hours prior.
The Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, said the string of good results for the state was welcome and he thanked contract tracers and the 200,000 Victorians who had been tested over the past week.
“That’s quite a significant achievement, [but] it is not an achievement that we can rest on our laurels though because we know that as 2021 evolves, this isn’t over until the Australian population is vaccinated,” Foley said.
Victoria’s Covid response commander, Jeroen Weimar, said the state would not fine or otherwise penalise 96 people who flew from Brisbane to Melbourne on Saturday despite the three-day lockdown and the potential breach of health directions.
The travellers, and more expected into Melbourne on Sunday, have been told to get tested and self-isolate.
The continued low level of community transmission in Australia was welcomed by the commonwealth chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, on Sunday.
Kelly said Australia’s experience stood in stark contrast to the rest of the world. No death had been recorded here since October and only 41 people are in hospital.
“In many other countries, the hospitals and intensive care units are absolutely full and deaths are mind-boggling,” he said. “In the UK in the past 24 hours, [more than] 1,000 deaths, in the US, [more than] 4,000.
“My sister lives in a small village in northern Italy. I had texts from her yesterday where she was talking about the church in her village, a small village [where] the bells are tolling for deaths almost every day and almost the whole day.
”That’s what the situation is out there in the world right now. In Australia, we’re doing much better.”
The continued success is likely to refocus attention on state border closures next week.
Berejiklian urged other states to take greater care when closing borders. The decisions affected thousands of people and should not be taken lightly, she said: “I would simply say to other state leaders: firstly, please talk to us in NSW before you close the border because we can explain to you the situation that’s going on.”