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Detection of new COVID-19 variants in Queensland

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Tests have confirmed a traveller who tested positive for COVID-19 in hotel quarantine in Queensland is infected with a new variant of the virus.

The woman, who travelled from South Africa, has been transferred to the Sunshine Coast University Hospital for treatment.

Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said genome sequencing revealed the woman, who arrived in Brisbane on 22 December, was infected with a new variant of COVID-19 believed to have originated in South Africa. This is different to the variant recently detected in the United Kingdom.

More contagious than the common COVID-19

‘This new variant is a concern as it is believed to be more contagious than the common variant of COVID-19 identified in Australia,’ said Dr Young.

‘The woman was routinely placed into hotel quarantine upon arrival. All of the other passengers aboard her flight are also in hotel quarantine and being closely monitored.

‘We’ve confirmed that all health staff who have had contact with her since she arrived complied with our strict infection control measures and wore appropriate PPE.

This case poses very low risk to the community

‘This case poses very low risk to the community and that shows how important policies like hotel quarantine are in protecting Queenslanders.’

Today, Queensland recorded two new cases, both of whom were also infected overseas and were detected in hotel quarantine. The state’s total cases has risen to 1,248, of which 11 are active.

Routine wastewater testing has also returned positive results for viral fragments of COVID-19 in sewage at treatment plants in seven locations across the state.

Viral fragments were detected in treatment plants located in five greater Brisbane locations – Victoria Point, Oxley Creek, Goodna, Fairfield and Redcliffe – as well as Cairns North and Nambour.

Positive sewage results

Dr Young said continued positive sewage results, collected on December 22 and 23, are particularly concerning given the New South Wales cluster.

‘We are concerned given this is the first time we’ve had seven locations test positive at the same time,’ she said.

‘We have continued to enhance our sewage testing strategy to help detect the virus. What we don’t know is if a positive sewage result is due to a new case, a case that’s still developing, or an old case that is still shedding.

‘A positive sewage result means that someone who has been infected was shedding the virus. Infected people can shed viral fragments and that shedding can happen for several weeks after the person is no longer infectious.

‘While this doesn’t necessarily mean we have new cases of COVID-19 in these communities, I continue to treat this with absolute caution given the Avalon cluster in New South Wales continues to grow and many people are travelling at this time of year.

‘When you are out and about over the holiday period, I can’t stress enough how important it to be vigilant and practice social distancing, good hand hygiene and stay home if you’re sick.

‘This is no time to be complacent. We want to make sure Queenslanders can enjoy a Happy New Year, and welcome 2021 COVID-19 free.’

Get tested immediately if you have any COVID-19 symptoms

Dr Young said given the positive results, she was especially calling on people across south east Queensland and the Cairns region to get tested immediately if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, no matter how mild.

‘It’s so important to get tested,’ said Dr Young.

‘In particular, if you live in these areas and you have been in New South Wales recently, please come forward and get tested regardless of whether or not you have symptoms.

‘If there is a case in the community, it is critical we detect it through our testing mechanisms as quickly as possible to contain any potential spread and protect the great progress Queensland has made in recent months.

‘But I also want to reassure the community, local drinking water is thoroughly treated through processes that are designed to remove or kill microorganisms before they reach your taps – so there is no risk when drinking water, showering, watering the garden, swimming or other activities.’

To access a full list of COVID-19 testing locations, with interactive map and post code search, visit: https://www.qld.gov.au/health/conditions/health-alerts/coronavirus-covid-19/stay-informed/testing-and-fever-clinics

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