Coronavirus test results from 86 contacts of COVID-infected Brisbane doctor come back negative, authorities still awaiting further results



Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says 86 close contacts of a Brisbane doctor who tested positive for COVID-19, have returned negative results with more test results still to come.

Queensland recorded six new cases of COVID-19 in hotel quarantine overnight — none in the Hotel Grand Chancellor in inner-city Brisbane, but two from Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Ms Palaszczuk said there was still 24 hours left to see if there had been any spread of community transmission from the doctor.  

She also said 272 contacts of the Brisbane doctor have been identified and are being tested.

“We’ve also identified 160 people in the PA Hospital and we have had 86 people tested who have come back negative to date,” she said.

Driveway and main building of Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane on March 4, 2020.
The doctor assessed two coronavirus patients on Wednesday last week at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital, then tested positive on Friday.(ABC News: Liz Pickering)

“We’ll be getting further information and updates through to tomorrow.”

More than 4,300 tests have been conducted in the past 24 hours.

‘Major concerns’ over PNG

Meanwhile, the Premier said she held “major concerns” for the coronavirus situation unfolding in PNG.

“We have been assisting with some tests [there] and out of the 500 tests that our health authorities have done for PNG, 250 have come back positive,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“This is a real concern.

“Papua New Guinea is on the doorstop of the Torres Strait and Queensland and I hope to speak to the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister’s office in the next 24 hours just to talk about our concerns there, have a look at the flights coming in.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaks to the media in Brisbane on January 14, 2021.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says escalating cases of coronavirus in Papua New Guinea is “a real concern”.(AAP: Darren England)

Still many unknowns in case of PA doctor

Deputy Chief Health Officer Sonya Bennett said the three closest contacts of the PA doctor had “most reassuringly” tested negative.

“Certainly with the healthcare worker in the hospital we haven’t seen any positives yet and that is a good sign,” she said.

“From today, clearly there is a lot we don’t yet know and there will be work going on first to manage the public health risks.”

Authorities also expect to confirm whether a returned overseas traveller infected another guest in quarantine at Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor.

Dr Bennett said genomic sequencing had confirmed that transmission likely had occurred in the Hotel Grand Chancellor.

“A match between the three cases … one of the first cases in quarantine, the healthcare worker and then a subsequent case that was reported two days ago at the hotel,” she said.

Signage on top of Brisbane's Hotel Grand Chancellor.
Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor is in lockdown until midday on Tuesday.(ABC News: Nik Coleman)

The hotel was sent into a 72-hour lockdown on Sunday as authorities investigated whether an overseas case announced on Saturday caught the virus while in quarantine.

Health authorities said the lockdown and investigation at the hotel were unrelated to the outbreak in January, when a quarantine cleaner at the same hotel tested positive to the virus.

She said there was also a lot of work underway to understand “what the [transmission] event may have been”.

“We’ve seen this before. We know that some people are highly infectious, and that is likely the case in this instance, and can transmit the virus through very little exposure,” Dr Bennett said.

“We now have CCTV footage in that hotel, that’ll be reviewed, we’ll interview various people and try and understand how the transmission event occurred.”

Dr Bennett said 106 quarantine guests have been released from the hotel since March 9, while “probably another 100” have been released since March 5.

She said while the infected hotel guests were staying on the same floor of the hotel, their rooms were “not close” to each other.

“We know this virus can be transmitted through opening doors etc, we’ve seen that … that’s why all those measures … about not having people open doors at the same time have been implemented,” she said.

Queensland Health has set up an incident response team to investigate the possible transmission at the hotel, which is not admitting any more people into quarantine, and will not be releasing anyone from quarantine until Wednesday.

Dr Bennett said both of the hotel’s cases had the more infectious UK strain and were on the same floor of the hotel at the same time.

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“It either could be that they had a very late incubation period, it may be they have a similar source from overseas, or it may be there’s a transmission in hotel quarantine,” she said.

Meanwhile, health unions have reported the PA Hospital lockdown has caused gridlock for ambulances, with wait times to deliver patients to emergency departments at other major hospitals across Brisbane pushed out.

Queensland ‘not out of the woods’

The Greater Brisbane region has so far managed to avoid a repeat of the snap three-day lockdown seen earlier this year following the first outbreak at the Hotel Grand Chancellor.

On Sunday, Ms Palaszczuk gave no indication the region might head into another snap lockdown, but said the state was “not out of the woods yet”.

Dr Bennett said she did not know whether the infected doctor was wearing a fit-tested N95 mask when she treated the patient who was admitted to the PA Hospital from the hotel on Wednesday.

Victorian authorities last year went above and beyond national guidelines by mandating N95 masks for all frontline hospital workers dealing with coronavirus — a step Dr Bennett said was still “under active consideration” in Queensland.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said all hospitals had the equipment to meet national guidelines on coronavirus and it was “too early to know” how the doctor was infected.

The Queensland government has fended off criticism from the Australian Medical Association and the state Opposition in the past week about the infection of the frontline healthcare worker and the pace of its vaccine rollout.

Grandstand at Lang Park
The government is considering using Brisbane’s Lang Park stadium as a vaccine hub.(ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

Frontline health workers are on track to receive their second round of the Pfizer vaccine jab this week, marking the first group in Queensland to be fully inoculated against the virus.

Opposition health spokeswoman Ros Bates said the state government as of Saturday had given out only 28 per cent of the 66,560 vaccine doses it had received.

She said by tomorrow it would have received 92,930 and should have been fast-tracking inoculations for frontline health staff.

The Queensland government has also not ruled out a suggestion to use Brisbane’s Lang Park stadium as a vaccine hub in an effort to speed up the delivery.

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