/Next two weeks critical to preventing a COVID-19 outbreak in NSW – ABC News

Next two weeks critical to preventing a COVID-19 outbreak in NSW – ABC News

The next two weeks will be critical in preventing an outbreak of COVID-19 in NSW after a man in his 50s contracted it locally, an expert warns.

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The eastern suburbs man hasn’t been overseas recently, and doesn’t work in a hotel quarantine, border or health role, setting off alarms on how he contracted the virus in the community.

“Within two weeks, we’ll know if the virus’ spread is growing or not,” said Professor Raina MacIntyre, an expert in global biosecurity and infectious disease from the University of NSW.

“It is worrying because it’s unknown where this man acquired this infection. Who did they get infected from? That’s the real question of interest.”

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She believes the man’s infection will probably be traced back to hotel quarantine, but wonders how many people would have contracted the virus to link the two.

NSW Health confirmed yesterday that the man has a higher viral load.

“That’s really concerning,” Professor MacIntyre said.

“This person looks like he’s shedding a high amount of virus.”

The man travelled to shops throughout eastern, central and western Sydney over a three-day period.

‘Tip of the iceberg’?

Deakin University’s Chair in Epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett said the discovery of a case in the community was concerning, but it was too early to tell if it was a potential cluster. 

“It might be that the fact that we’ve only seen one person is a bit of a tip of the iceberg,” she said. 

“There could have been a few people exposed at the same time.” 

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Unlike other states that have locked down after one case, Professor Bennett said New South Wales’s more targeted approach is on the right track.

“They’ll [NSW Health] then put appropriate measures in place,” she said. 

“I think it’s not at this stage, a need for lockdown, even though it’s clear evidence that they do have some community transmission happening.”

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Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she is expecting more positive cases.

“If there is one case and there’s no direct connection, we have to assume there’s other cases,” Ms Berejiklian said. 

“Our response will be proportionate as it always has been in NSW.”

The health department’s investigation will be carried out on three fronts, Professor MacIntyre said.

First, contact tracers will need to track and isolate anyone who may have been exposed. 

So far about two dozen close contacts are in isolation, NSW Health said.

Second, sampling of the state’s sewage system will be undertaken to flag areas where someone may have contracted the virus. 

And finally, genomic sequencing will help identify the strain of the virus, narrowing down its source.

Professor MacIntyre said the community could offset the risks of spreading the virus by being COVID safe, by social distancing, practicing good hygiene and wearing masks. 

Those who can should also get vaccinated, she said. 

“The program for 50 year olds and up [to get vaccinated] has only started this week,” she said. 

“Unfortunately, we’re limited by the supply of this vaccine, but I have no doubt New South Wales can ramp up.”

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