Australia hunts for virus hotel guests in NSW, as travel bubble with NZ is set to return


NSW Health is hunting down people who were guests of an Auckland hotel where a highly transmissible coronavirus variant is believed to have circulated as Australia is expected to reinstate its travel bubble with New Zealand this weekend.

After tracking down seven people who stayed at the Auckland Pullman between December 30 and January 13, NSW Health said it was contacting others who had arrived in Sydney after staying at the hotel on January 24. Additional cases have been linked to the hotel this week.

NSW Health was unable to say how many people still needed to be contacted.

“We are continuing to work with our federal and international colleagues regarding new travellers related to the more recently advised dates,” a spokesperson for NSW Health said.

The Pullman has been linked to three cases of the highly transmissible B1351 coronavirus variant. The first was detected when a woman tested positive after completing hotel quarantine.

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Asked if she was concerned about the possibility someone with the variant had travelled to NSW, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, even with hotel quarantine, international arrivals presented a risk that the virus would enter the community.

“Every day of the pandemic is a risk; every day we welcome back Australians into our country, as is their right … is a threat,” the Premier said on Friday.

NSW has tracked down several people who stayed at Auckland’s Pullman Hotel.

Phil Walter/Getty Images

NSW has tracked down several people who stayed at Auckland’s Pullman Hotel.

With only three cases detected following widespread testing in Auckland, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the travel bubble with New Zealand would likely be reinstated on Sunday after a six-day suspension of the agreement saw arrivals placed in hotel quarantine. A decision will be made on Saturday.

“If there are continued excellent results out of New Zealand, which is commensurate with their entire performance over the course of the pandemic, then we hope to be in a position to resume [the bubble] in the coming days and I think that should give hope to everybody who is looking at friends or family arriving,” he said.

It came as another Auckland quarantine hotel was embroiled in scandal after a former employee was caught in the bedroom of a returned traveller.

The man, who has since been fired, entered the room at the Grand Millennium Hotel on January 7 to deliver an item and remained there for 20 minutes before being caught by a security manager, according to a statement from New Zealand’s Managed Isolation and Quarantine programme.

Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of New South Wales, said even with hotel quarantine, international arrivals presented a risk that the virus would enter the community.

Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of New South Wales, said even with hotel quarantine, international arrivals presented a risk that the virus would enter the community.

Programme head Jim Bliss, called the incident “incredibly irresponsible and extremely disappointing”, adding it was not reflective of the more than 4000 workers in its quarantine system.

Meanwhile, NSW recorded a 12th consecutive day without a local case, as testing results remained low.

There were 11,897 tests recorded during the reporting period, the first time the state has recorded a daily testing result above 10,000 since Sunday.

All Sydneysiders are able to travel to Victoria and the ACT after both jurisdictions eased border restrictions on Cumberland Local Government Area, home of the Berala cluster which reached 29 cases earlier this month.

People who have been in Cumberland for 14 days prior to their arrival in Victoria will need to present for a coronavirus test during the first three days of their stay, with the region classified as an “orange zone” under Victoria’s traffic light travel system.

All other areas in NSW have been designated as “green zones”, allowing for unrestricted travel.

With Queensland to reopen to Greater Sydney on Monday after a six-week closure, Berejiklian said she lacked sympathy for Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s calls to extend the federal JobKeeper programme for the tourism industry.

“She is now the victim of a policy she put in place herself,” Berejiklian said, adding that she believed Palaszczuk had kept the Queensland border closed to NSW unnecessarily for weeks after no place in Sydney was considered a hotspot.

Australia will make a decision over its suspended travel bubble with NZ on Saturday.

Supplied

Australia will make a decision over its suspended travel bubble with NZ on Saturday.

“The whole point is that NSW has been so strong in keeping borders open in Australia [to prevent] exactly what the Queensland Premier is now complaining about.”

Palaszczuk said she was “merely communicating what people are saying to me” in north Queensland and the tourism industry was hurting from international border closures.

Many questions remain about the logistics of NSW’s coronavirus vaccination rollout, after the Sydney Morning Herald revealed the location of the state’s first 11 vaccination hubs on Thursday.

“We will wait to see the advice the federal government gives us as to when the vaccine will be available and how many doses NSW will receive,” the Premier said, adding that she believed the hub locations were “not final”.

Amid concern about low testing rates, people in the Liverpool, Minto and Warriewood areas have been asked to be particularly vigilant after fragments of the virus which causes Covid-19 were detected in local sewage treatment plants.

The flagged sewage catchments cover more than 250,000 people. The fragments may detect recent cases.

There were three cases in returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine, bringing the total number of cases in the state since the start of the pandemic to 4910.

– with Jenny Noyes and Lydia Lynch

Sydney Morning Herald

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