A positive Covid case has shut down a major CBD construction site. It comes as Victoria records five new locally acquired cases.
• This coronavirus article is unlocked and free to read in the interest of community health and safety. Click here for full digital access to trusted news from the Herald Sun and Leader for just $1 a week for the first 12 week.
Five new locally acquired cases have been recorded overnight, with one new case detected in hotel quarantine.
Health Minister Martin Foley said three of the five were direct primary close contacts of existing cases, with two unlinked cases.
One case was a second child of a family, another was a household contact of a known case, with the third a previously identified close contact who works with a family member “of the first West Melbourne group”.
Each of those cases were in quarantine during the entire infectious period.
The two unlinked cases are from the same household.
COVID-19 testing commander Jeroen Weimar said the first was a man from the northern suburbs of Melbourne who visited the Craigieburn Central shopping centre.
The second is his partner who is an employee of a large, Probuild construction site in the CBD. That site was locked down on Friday night, with 170 people linked to the site now in lockdown.
The new case in hotel quarantine is believed to have been infected overseas.
Health authorities received 36,362 tests on Friday, with more than 24,000 vaccine doses administered.
Friday’s test numbers saw a drop off of more than 13,000 tests from the previous day.
The Department of Health reported 49,439 tests were returned on Thursday when four new local cases were recorded.
There are 69 active Covid cases across the state, with three in hospital.
VARIANT LIKELY LEAKED FROM HOTEL QUARANTINE
A hyper-infectious variant of COVID-19 discovered in Melbourne this week would not have mutated in Australia and is likely to have leaked from hotel quarantine, health experts say.
Leading infections diseases expert Professor Sharon Lewin, the director of the Doherty Institute, said genomic testing of all positive cases in hotel quarantine was done but no match had yet been found.
She said it wasn’t always possible to identify the “barcode” for every patient case, however, with about 20 per cent not identifiable.
There had been suspicion that the Delta strain that is causing alarm in Victoria could have been related to a case in NSW in April, but Prof Lewin and chief health officer Prof Brett Sutton said there was no genomic match between the interstate cases, so that could be ruled out.
“My strong hypothesis is that it’s come in through an importation from overseas, through our quarantine hotel system, that would be the most likely,” Prof Lewin said.
“These two variants, Kappa and Delta, are related. We have virtually no transmission here, we have tiny tiny numbers so it would not have mutated in Australia. It would be a separate importation.”
Prof Lewin said two strains of the virus that were thought to have mutated in India, known as the Kappa and Delta variants, were related and about 50 per cent more infectious than previous strains.
“I think that, in a way, it’s super lucky that we are doing a lot of testing and found it,” she said.
PARAMEDICS TO BE TARGETED IN VACCINATION BLITZ
Mr Foley urged Victorians to continue to get vaccinated, with priority for aged care and disability care workers to continue beyond its original finish date of Monday, following strong demand.
He said more than 10,000 workers were vaccinated in the blitz.
Paramedics are the next group of workers to be prioritised in a vaccination blitz from Wednesday until Sunday.
“That is the off-ramp for this pandemic.”
URGENT VIRUS ALERT FOR SHOPPING CENTRE
A Costco store has been added to Victoria’s growing list of Covid-19 public exposure sites, which has now risen above 360.
The Department of Health also issued health warnings for a shopping centre in Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs and an office building along Collins St in the CBD.
Anyone who visited the Costco Superstore at the Docklands on May 30 from 3pm-4pm is urged to get tested immediately and to isolate until a negative result is returned, under Tier 2 requirements.
The same advice is given to anyone who visited the Merrifield City Shopping Centre at Mickleham on May 31 between 9.45am-10.40am and the office building located at 55 Collins St on May 25 from 8.30am-6.30pm.
RACE TO FIND ‘DISTURBING’ COVID VARIANT SOURCE
Authorities were on Friday night scrambling to find the source of an alarming new strain of coronavirus.
The Delta strain — which devastated India — has been detected in seven people in Melbourne, including three children.
Contact tracers are working to find the source after genetic testing revealed the strain in at least two people in a family of four who travelled on holiday to regional NSW at the end of May.
The hyper-infectious strain has ravaged India, is on the rise in the UK and has been listed as a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation.
There are also fears it may transmit more easily through children and appears to have spread further, to another family of three, through two Grade 5 children coming into contact at North Melbourne Primary School.
The cluster is now made up of seven people, the family of four who visited Jervis Bay in New South Wales and three new cases — two parents and a child — reported on Friday.
It is just the second time this strain of coronavirus has been detected in the Australian community and has not been traced back genetically to any existing Delta infections, including those in hotel quarantine.
Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton said the discovery was “disturbing news” but the government had spent the last two days chasing down close contacts.
This included about 300 people from North Melbourne Primary School, with about 70 per cent testing negative so far.
“The fact that it’s a variant that is different to all of our other cases means that it is not related in terms of transmission (to the previous outbreak),” Prof Sutton said.
“It has not been linked to any sequenced cases across Australia from hotel quarantine or anywhere else.
“We are examining who is the likely index case in this family and therefore trying to trace back where this variant has been picked up.”
Prof Sutton said it was possible the strain had been picked up in New South Wales.
“We have to explore all avenues,” he said.
“The average incubation time is about six days, and that puts it in NSW, Jervis Bay territory, or indeed earlier.
“We have to be clear who the likely first case in this cluster is and then go through a really forensic process.
“Its obviously had very high transmission potential because it’s spread, extremely rapidly across India to become the predominant variant, indeed almost the exclusive variant there.”
In total, there were four new cases of coronavirus reported on Friday and all were linked to existing outbreaks.
Of these, one was the partner of a previous positive case and part of the Port Melbourne cluster while the other three were those linked to the West Melbourne Delta cluster.
The active number of cases linked to clusters across Melbourne has grown to 64.
Health Minister Martin Foley said the results were proof that the fight against the outbreak was working – but was not yet over.
“We are working day in and day out to make sure we overcome this virus,” he said.
“Everybody knows it is hard work, that it is important work if we’re to get on top of this virus.”
The government added seven new exposure sites on Friday including three Tier 1 locations.
These were Kmart and Punjabi by Nature at Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre, both visited after 5pm on May 26.
World Shiner on Collins St in Melbourne’s CBD was also listed all day on May 31.
OPSM 233 Collins Street, Barkly Square Shopping Centre, Coles Barkly Square and Gangemi in Brunswick were all listed as Tier 2 sites for May 27 and 31.
– Kieran Rooney