from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: has the horse bolted?

The weekend Australian December 19-20

Tomorrow at 9.55am, we should have been aboard an early flight to Sydney with luggage filled with Christmas presents and our beach clothes for our 9 nights at the coast north of Sydney.

Today, we postponed our departure for two days. Sydney is partly in crisis over an outbreak of Covid-19 on the ‘Northern Beaches’, an area along the coast north of the harbour from Bondi to Palm Beach – 21 beaches and their suburbs extending a long way inland. This area has been declared a ‘hotspot’ by all other states and territories.

Once more it is partly a case of poor management. You would have thought that councils, states and governments would learn from one another, would have their antennae alert to the mistakes and successes of other jurisdictions, other countries. Not so. Premier Daniel Andrews of Victoria state made a few blatant well chronicled mistakes but he did not stand down. Now it’s the Premier of NSW, Gladys Berejiklian’s turn to admit they have made another mistake (not an acknowledged mistake – they are merely changing their ways. A major error was the handling of the docking and disembarkation of the passengers from the cruise ship, ‘Ruby Princess’ in March).

Until now, crews from international flights have been required to self-isolate either in hotels or private homes for 14 days or until they left on their next flight. More than one hundred international flights have been arriving into Sydney Airport per week. This comes as there has been great pressure on the Australian government to facilitate the repatriation of Australians ‘stuck’ overseas.

Often its not what they did, but what they did not do. Crew members have been seen wandering around Sydney. From next Tuesday, airline crew will be taken to two designated hotels near the airport and the hotels will be monitored by the police. Don’t move out of your hotel room! No more taking in the sights of our marvellous harbour city!

What was the source of this outbreak, this new cluster?

They don’t know. However, a Sydney Ground Transport bus driver who transports international flight crews tested positive this week but he is not regarded as the source of the new outbreak.

Could the source be one of those airline crews who has since returned overseas? This is possible. NSW Health are doing extensive genomic testing and announced that they believe that the strain is from the USA. But ‘patient zero’ has not been located.

We cannot stay isolated from the rest of the world for ever but it is apparent that a sprinkling of international passengers are carrying the virus and it does not take much of a slip up in the process of their quarantine for an outbreak to occur.

What is obvious is that our tracing abilities of contacts have improved no end. Every few hours various locations and transportation routes are announced on the NSW Covid-19 site to alert the public to the fact that a positive case was there at the time indicated. In an attempt to restrict the spread to the Northern Beaches, all residents have been asked to stay at home as much as possible for 3 days. QR codes have been used in NSW since November 22. There are hour long queues at the new testing sites across Sydney. So there is hope with such improved processes.

I told my daughter in Seattle, USA, about the outbreak.

‘How many cases?’ she said.

’28,’ I said.

’28!!’ she laughed. ‘Overnight in Washington State we have had almost 900 new cases.’

(Population of greater Sydney is 5.3 million, Washington State, USA, is 7.6 million)

So, we must put our outbreak into perspective. However, we have all learnt this year that it takes only one busy, undetected, infected person in a city for the virus to totally escape. Our Australian state premiers and our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, have learnt that its necessary to overreact to outbreaks. We don’t want to get complacent when vaccines are just over the horizon.