Perth’s snap five-day coronavirus lockdown is ending but strict mask rules will remain in place across the city after both Western Australia and Victoria recorded no new cases of community transmission.
The positive news on Friday came as the federal health department secretary, Prof Brendan Murphy, suggested the rollout of vaccines might not remove quarantine requirements for international travellers entering Australia but it could end disruptive state border closures.
Western Australia’s premier, Mark McGowan, announced on Friday the lockdown affecting metropolitan Perth, Peel and the south-west region would be lifted at 6pm local time. It was introduced after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday.
WA recorded no new cases from almost 50,000 tests conducted during the lockdown. But some restrictions would remain in place for Perth and Peel until 14 February including mandatory mask wearing for residents while outside of their homes (except during vigorous exercise) and a 20-person limit on all indoor private gatherings.
Hospitality, weddings and retail venues would be subject to a four square metre rule and a cap of 150 attendees, while restaurants and bars can only have seated service. Only essential travel was allowed in and out of the Perth and Peel zone.
“I’m so relieved we have got to this point and we can get businesses and our economy back open with full confidence,” McGowan said.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said on Friday another day of zero locally-acquired cases was a “good sign” after an Australian Open quarantine hotel worker tested positive on Wednesday.
“While there are still days that will be relevant to us these are, in some respects, the very best outcomes that we could have hoped for,” Andrews said.
Genomic sequencing had shown the guard at the Grand Hyatt had the more infectious UK variant. The state’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said he was “a little bit surprised” that none of the 16 close contacts of the 26-year-old worker had returned positive tests. One close contact’s test results were yet to be returned and the 17 close contacts would remain in isolation for 14 days.
The Australian Open’s organisers said lead-up matches could resume after none of the 507 tennis players and officials deemed secondary contacts returned positive results.
Meanwhile, Queensland health authorities remain dumbfounded as to how a highly infectious variant of Covid-19 leaked out of its hotel quarantine system in January, with an investigation failing to identify the root cause of transmission.
The review examined the spread in Brisbane’s Grand Chancellor quarantine hotel in January. Despite being unable to determine the transmission, investigators were able to rule out the hotel’s air conditioning system as the cause.
The report noted “the cluster is most likely a result of multiple gaps in infection prevention and control” in Queensland’s quarantine system. It made several recommendations, including limiting how frequently returned travellers open their room doors, and installing CCTV in hotel corridors to monitor guest movements.
The investigators also recommended ensuring air extraction and ventilation of corridors.
Appearing before a parliamentary committee on Friday, Murphy said he hoped the first batch of Pfizer vaccines would be distributed “later this month” but he indicated that would depend on international supply.
Murphy said he hoped once vaccination became widespread it would end what he described as “disruptive” state border closures and lockdowns. It should offer state leaders “a path to relax”, the department secretary said.
“The risk appetite in the states and territories is such that very extreme measures are often taken for short periods of time,” he said. “They are very disruptive and we want to move on. We want to get to a position where if the population is vaccinated, we might get small outbreaks but not be so worried.”
The head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, John Skerritt, also told the committee that it would write to AstraZeneca on Friday with a list of questions before possible approval in mid to late February.
While other countries, including the UK, had already approved the vaccine for emergency use, Skerritt told the committee it was an “advantage” for Australia to go through a full approval process.
“We have had the advantage in Australia of almost eight weeks experience in some overseas countries,” he said. “The really encouraging thing is that serious but rare adverse events generally occur for six, maybe eight maximum, weeks after a vaccination, if they appear at all.”
Murphy also played down concerns about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the over-65 population, saying the only issue had been a “paucity” of data, which was being addressed by a number of trials.
“There is no evidence that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not effective for older people,” he said.