Coronavirus SA: 'Subtle details' could solve virus mystery

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

South Australia has announced there are no new coronavirus cases for Wednesday as health officials reveal more details about how the recent cluster spread to 29 people.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier shared what she described as the “excellent news” following 9,403 tests being conducted on Tuesday.

It come as South Australian health authorities try to get to the bottom of two mysterious infections in the state after a husband and wife couple who recently returned to Australia were deemed to have become infected with the virus while in isolation at Adelaide’s Peppers Hotel.

At a press briefing Wednesday, Prof Spurrier said genomic testing pointed to the shock finding, prompting further concerns for the security of the hotel quarantine system.

“What [the genomic testing] showed was that they had the same strain of Covid as the Parafield cluster,” she told reporters.

SA Health Minister Stephen Wade, Nicola Spurrier and SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens.
SA Health Minister Stephen Wade, Nicola Spurrier and SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens look on during a Covid-19 update. Source: Getty

“They were in the Peppers Hotel, so that immediately let us bring the conclusion that those people had, indeed, contracted that not from coming overseas, but actually during their stay in the Peppers Hotel.”

The couple were the 28th and 29th cases to be linked to the Parafield cluster after the results of the genomic testing were confirmed.

Authorities combing ‘subtle details’ in CCTV

Prof Spurrier said the state’s top communicable disease experts have been looking at stills from CCTV footage at the hotel to determine how the couple were possibly infected during their stay.

While that process is ongoing, she said no major breaches have yet been identified.

“On the basis of the stills, I can absolutely confirm that nobody was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said.

“But there are subtle details that they are looking at,” Prof Spurrier cautioned.

South Australia will tighten its quarantine regimen after the state entered a brief three day lockdown. Source: Getty
South Australia will tighten its quarantine regimen after the state entered a brief three day lockdown. Source: Getty

“They're looking at whether people had touched their mask, for example. When did they touch their mask? When did they touch another surface? So you can imagine, it's very, very detailed information that they're needing to have a look at.

“But what is really clear is that there's no significant breaches identified,” she said.

“In addition to the CCTV footage, we've had to go through detailed staff lists and roster lists to see who was where at particular times. So that's a lot of information to get through.”

State to bolster hotel quarantine with new rules

Premier Steven Marshall said the state will make sweeping reforms to its hotel quarantine system following the scare.

A number of new steps were announced by the premier Wednesday including moving all known cases under police guard at a dedicated facility.

“We will now transfer all positive Covid cases from medi-hotels to a dedicated health facility,” he said.

“Staff working at the dedicated facility will not be deployed to other medi-hotels, or high-risk environments, including aged care facilities, correctional facilities or hospitals.”

The Peppers MediHotel has been recognised as a Covid-19 hotspot in the state. Source: Getty
The Peppers MediHotel has been recognised as a Covid-19 hotspot in the state. Source: Getty

All staff working at the facility will be offered alternative accommodation to allow them to stay away from their home.

Additionally, the South Australian premier wants to see returning Australians tested before they board flights home.

“We will ask National Cabinet to consider testing all returning Australian citizens prior to their flight with a view that they must have negative test results before boarding,” he said.

So far 29 coronavirus cases have been linked to the so-called Parafield cluster which was sparked when a worker at the Peppers Hotel contracted the virus from a returned traveller.

That was initially thought to be a cleaner at the hotel but Prof Spurrier said further investigations had determined that a security guard was the first person infected.

The number of total active cases in the state is steady at 38.

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