NSW reported eight new local coronavirus cases in the 24 hours up to 8pm on Saturday, five of those linked to a Berala bottle shop in Sydney’s west.
That cluster, now with 13 cases, has been linked to a patient transport driver in the state’s hotel quarantine program who was infected by their colleague, who had been infected by a returning family.
The driver visited the Berala BWS in the week before Christmas, causing health authorities to warn that anyone who was there at certain times between Tuesday, December 22 and Thursday, December 31 was considered a close contact.
These people, potentially tens of thousands, were urged to get tested and self-isolate for a full 14 days.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the biggest concern was how briefly the infected driver came into contact with staff at the store.
“I can’t stress enough how concerned we are about the transmission potential,” Dr Chant said.
But she said there was no sign the strain from the Berala cluster was linked to the highly infectious versions of COVID-19 running rampant overseas.
NSW’s hotel quarantine program has faced similar leaks before, including recently a cleaner at one hotel and a driver transporting air crew from Sydney Airport.
NSW government stands firm on SCG Test
With NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian taking leave, Deputy Premier John Barilaro has stepped up as acting Premier.
He asked people from the Berala area to avoid coming to the upcoming cricket Test.
“There are some concerns about the SCG and the upcoming test,” Mr Barilaro said.
“But we have already proven in this state that we can hold large events like the NRL grand final and State of Origin, and we haven’t had that issue of a transmission.”
Mr Barilaro said there may be some new health advice for Berala area residents on the Test in the coming days.
An Indian cricket news website, Cricbuzz, reported the Indian side is not happy about the prospect of playing the fourth Test in Brisbane as it would require them to quarantine.
Cricket Australia has previously said it had made an arrangement with the Queensland government for a quarantine bubble for players and staff.
Australia’s peak medical association has joined the chorus of voices, including NSW Labor, calling for the Sydney leg of the Test to be played without crowds.
Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said the SCG would become a potential transmission site.
Just over 18,000 people being tested is not what we would hope for. We’re hoping for far, far more.
Brad Hazzard, NSW Health Minister
“The decision to hold the Test match with spectators is at odds with the rest of NSWs appropriate response to the latest outbreak,” Dr Khorshid said.
Testing issues in Vic, NSW
Victorian health and government officials have apologised for long waits for testing across the state as the cluster in Melbourne grew to 21 cases.
Head of testing, Jeroen Weimar, said having a number of staff on Christmas leave had caused delays, but he pleaded with Victorians to persist.
In NSW, a lack of testing is causing headaches for officials.
More than 18,900 people got tested in the 24 hour reporting period, short of the more than 60,000 daily tests the state was clocking ahead of Christmas.
“Just over 18,000 people being tested is not what we would hope for,” Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
“We’re hoping for far, far more.”
Mr Hazzard warned Sydneysiders they faced a $200 fine if not wearing their masks indoors or on public transport.
But he added NSW Police would be applying discretion and there were exemptions for people with medical conditions.
“If you don’t have a good excuse, well, you’ll be fined,” he said.
“Please, don’t play games with yourself or the community.”
Out of the remaining three local cases reported on Sunday, two were linked to the original cluster in Sydney’s northern beaches and another to Wollongong.
Dr Chant said it was still a mystery how the Wollongong cluster and one in the Sydney suburb of Croydon were linked.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt painted a rosier picture nationally.
Overall mystery cases were low and no one was being treated in hospital for the virus.
“Although the times are challenging … there is significant cause for hope in Australia,” Mr Hunt said.

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