Are Brisbane’s latest COVID-19 cases a cluster that might lead to community transmission?



Brisbane’s latest coronavirus cluster has put residents on tenterhooks about a possible outbreak in hotel quarantine spreading into the community via a frontline healthcare worker.

So far those fears — fuelled by the memory of a snap lockdown across south-east Queensland in similar circumstances in January — have not been fully realised.

But with hundreds of test results still to come and a worrying coronavirus outbreak on Queensland’s northern doorstep in Papua New Guinea, authorities remain on alert.

Is this a cluster?

Yes — but a small one.

It involves a doctor, and two returned overseas travellers who were in quarantine in Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor.

Last Wednesday, one of the travellers tested positive to COVID-19 and was taken to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, where the doctor performed a face-to-face assessment.

The doctor tested positive on Friday, after being out in the community in Brisbane’s inner south on Thursday.

A sign on top of one of the buildings at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane
A doctor at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital tested positive on Friday.(ABC News: Stefan Lowe)

On Saturday, the second traveller tested positive on their 12th day in quarantine.

Both travellers stayed on the same hotel floor, at the same time.

Genomic testing has linked all three cases.

This suggests the UK strain spread at the hotel and then at the hospital.

What’s happening with the Hotel Grand Chancellor?

Concerns about transmission in the hotel have prompted its temporary lockdown, but more than 200 people who stayed there during the period of concern have already been released, which includes 106 people from March 9.

They have been directed to quarantine at home.

Signage on top of Brisbane's Hotel Grand Chancellor.
Concerns about transmission in the Hotel Grand Chancellor prompted its temporary lockdown.(ABC News: Nik Coleman)

How many close contacts have been tested?

The doctor attended a gym, a cafe and a hotel on Thursday while infectious.

As of yesterday, 272 contacts had been identified and tested.

None so far has tested positive.

There were also 160 staff and patients at the Princess Alexandra Hospital who were potential close contacts.

So far 86 have tested negative.

Does this mean we have no community transmission?

For now, yes.

But authorities say there is still a long way to go before all the test results are back.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has said the next 24 hours will be critical — if no new cases are recorded, authorities will be able to move closer to ruling out community transmission.

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Can vaccinated people still transmit the virus?

Why are we so worried about Papua New Guinea?

Our northern neighbour has shown an alarmingly high rate of infections.

Queensland Health workers have been helping out PNG authorities with testing.

Out of 500 people tested, half came back positive.

With PNG on the doorstep of the Torres Strait, and many Queenslanders travelling to and from the country for work, the Premier flagged a new level of scrutiny for arriving flights.

Ms Palaszczuk said she would be attempting to speak to PNG Prime Minister James Marape or his office within the next day.

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