VictoriaTwo more cases linked to the Melbourne airport Holiday Inn quarantine hotel were recorded on Tuesday afternoon
Two more people connected to Melbournes Holiday Inn quarantine hotel have tested positive for Covid, with authorities saying it appears the virus has been transmitted on one floor of the hotel.
A food and beverage worker at the Melbourne airport hotel tested positive on Tuesday afternoon just hours after a guest who completed her 14-day quarantine at the hotel on Saturday also tested positive.
There are now three community cases associated with the Holiday Inn. A woman who worked issuing detention orders to people quarantining at the hotel tested positive on Sunday.
In total there have been five cases of apparent transmission in the hotel quarantine system in seven days, including staff and guests.
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Victorias chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said the exact source of the latest cases was not yet known but it was likely transmission within the hotel quarantine system.
The food and beverage worker delivered food on the same floor where the woman was a guest, Sutton said, and there were other known positive cases in quarantine on that floor. He said it was likely a case of transmission from that floor despite there not being close face-to-face contacts.
Obviously food is delivered to the door, the door is knocked on, there is no close contact for delivery of food but we need to go through the interview process again to work out exactly what has happened, he said.
Everyone who completed hotel quarantine on that floor of the hotel in the past week has been contacted and told to self-isolate for a further 14 days.
Victorias health minister, Martin Foley, praised the guest who tested positive after being released from hotel quarantine on Saturday. She got tested after seeing media reports regarding the first Holiday Inn case.
Early indications are she had not left home since exiting the hotel quarantine on 7 February other than to obtain her Covid test, Foley said.
Only one direct contact, and no exposure sites, have been identified in connection to that case. That person has done the right thing, the minister said.
Victorian health minister Martin Foley (left) and Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton address the media on Tuesday. Photograph: Luis Ascui/AAP
The food and beverage worker was among hundreds of staff identified as potential close contacts of the first case who were told to get tested.
Sutton said genomic testing had not been completed but he expected all three cases would link back to a case in the hotel and would likely be a variant of concern.
The majority of cases that are now being detected in hotel quarantine are variants of concern. They are becoming the predominant cases, he said.
The states health department said genomics from the initial case indicated it was a variant of concern and was an identical sequence to a family who were staying at the Holiday Inn.
New South Wales is also chasing down potential close contacts of a person who tested positive to Covid three days after completing hotel quarantine in Sydney.
The NSW government is proposing the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee adopt a national policy of testing all returned travellers on day 16 two days after their release from quarantine.
Sutton said he believed some post-quarantine follow-up of returned travellers was necessary. He said the timing would need to balance the desire to detect the virus against the risk of having an undetected positive case out in the community for several days.
It may be day 16, it might be day 17 or 18. You want to make sure you are maximising the possibility of picking up an infection, he said.
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Sutton said the high number of apparent transmission events in the Victorian hotel quarantine system in the past week could have happened in any jurisdiction.
This is a risk across Australia. Just because it has happened in Victoria at this point in time doesnt mean that its not a risk in any formal quarantine system across the world.
The chief health officer also suggested these cases were appearing because of increased scrutiny of the hotel quarantine system.
Its also how hard youre looking, he said. We have discovered transmission within the hotel quarantine system that before genomic testing and before the kind of intensive investigation we have now, that would not have even been noted.
Meanwhile, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has cast serious doubt on whether the Trans-Tasman bubble will go ahead in the first quarter of this year, telling reporters at her weekly press conference things have changed significantly since Australia abruptly closed its borders to New Zealand in January, following a small Covid-19 outbreak at an MIQ facility in Auckland.
I can report significant changes in the environment. Weve had the Sydney outbreak and the response from Australia [following an Auckland outbreak], she said.
We continue to work on it, but I have always had hesitancy over putting dates on these things … so much of this arrangement will be around how the different states behave and there hasnt been a formula for it. So its very hard to establish a regime.
Ardern said the knock-on effect of Australia deciding to shut its border in January was quite significant from a commercial perspective.
We have to ask the question of whether airlines will want to operate in an environment where within three hours they can have cancellations for multiple days.
In that circumstance, we didnt believe the border needed to close it was and that demonstrates the low tolerance and that means that it will have a commercial implication.
Its not a simple issue to resolve I do not apologise for a moment for being cautious about this you cannot unscramble the egg, she said.
It will be damaging to everyone if we open, close, open, close and then shut it permanently.

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