Queensland health authorities are investigating how a Brisbane doctor caught COVID-19 within a hospital as they wait to find out if she has the highly infectious UK strain.
- Contact tracers are racing to find people who attended three “high risk” locations on Thursday
- The doctor tested positive on Friday after waking up with a sore throat
- Hospitals and other facilities in Greater Brisbane went into a 72-hour lockdown on Saturday
Genomic testing is being carried out to determine if the doctor, from the Princess Alexandra Hospital at Woolloongabba on Brisbane’s southside, caught the UK strain from two COVID-19 patients she assessed on Wednesday.
Hospitals, prisons, aged care and disability services in the Greater Brisbane area — including Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, Moreton Bay and Redlands — were sent into a 72-hour lockdown on Saturday after the doctor tested positive.
Deputy Chief Health Officer Sonya Bennett said the doctor was wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) while treating the patients and there had been “no identified breaches” in protocol.
“Certainly, the hospital will look into that and try to identify any particular cause that may need improvement, but there’s nothing to suggest that has occurred,” she said.
“It is a virus, it is highly infectious.”
The UK strain is the same one that sent Greater Brisbane into a three-day lockdown in January amid fears it was spreading undetected in the community.
Dr Bennett said the doctor woke on Friday morning with a “sore throat” and immediately got tested.
Contact tracers are racing to find people the doctor encountered during her shifts at the hospital in Woolloongabba on Wednesday and Thursday, and several other places she visited after work.
They include three “high risk” sites:
- Morning After cafe at West End from 2:00pm to 3:15pm on Thursday.
- Corporate Box gym at Greenslopes between 5:45 and 7:00pm on Thursday.
- Stones Corner Hotel at Stones Corner, between 7:00pm and 7:45pm on Thursday.
Anyone who visited those sites at those times should immediately self-quarantine at home and call Queensland Health on 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84).
McDonald’s at Coorparoo on Brisbane’s eastside has been identified as an additional site, but it’s considered “low risk” because the doctor only used the drive-through between 3:10am and 3:20am on Thursday.
Critical days ahead
On Saturday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the next few days would be critical.
“There is no need for the public in general to be wearing masks … we will be assessing this especially over the next 72 hours to see if we have any further community spread,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
She unlike the case that sparked January’s three-day snap lockdown, the doctor had not been in the community for a “long period of time”.
Dr Bennett said the woman worked in various areas around the hospital during her shifts on Wednesday and Thursday.
“Whilst she wasn’t symptomatic while she was working at the hospital … there’s a big contact tracing operation underway at the PA Hospital identifying all patients and staff who may’ve been in contact with that doctor,” she said.
“They will be managed appropriately depending on what contact they had with some staff going into quarantine and patients being tested, so there is a lot of work to do over the next 24 hours.”
But Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid has accused the Queensland government of a “double failure” over the doctor’s infection.
Dr Khorshid said a lack of appropriate PPE and a slow rollout of the vaccine were factors.
“There’s plenty of vaccine for all of the workers in the phase 1A, yet after three weeks, we’re only halfway through the task in Queensland and many other states are in similar positions,” he said.
Dr Khorshid also accused the Queensland government of not providing “airborne protection” for all healthcare workers that are exposed to patients with COVID-19.
“They’ve said the doctor was wearing the PPE appropriately, so it doesn’t look like there’s been a failure on the user end, which means there must be some other failure, and the obvious source is the lack of airborne protection,” he said.
“One part of that is N95 masks, but also includes proper eye protection and other protections like appropriate airflow within facilities that are treating COVID patients.”
A Queensland Health spokeswoman said the department’s PPE use was “in line with the relevant clinical guidelines” and control of “when the Australian vaccination program started is a matter for the Commonwealth”.
In response to Dr Khorshid, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said: “Any comments about PPE or the manner of transmission is speculative and it would be inappropriate to comment further until more information is gathered.”
Hospital in lockdown
The Princess Alexandra Hospital went into lockdown on Friday night, meaning non-essential visitors are not allowed into the hospital, staff and approved visitors must wear masks, and all outpatient bookings and elective surgeries have been postponed.
Ambulance services are being re-directed to other facilities.
Ms D’Ath said while the hospital’s emergency department was still accepting “walk-ins”, people are being advised to “go to your GP or another emergency department” if possible.
Ms D’Ath said the infected doctor had not yet received a vaccination, but the rollout was on track.
She said half of the 37,000 frontline workers eligible for phase 1a of the national program had received their first injection.
“We have already vaccinated 18,211 of that group … and next week we will start with the second vaccination of that group,” she said.
But she warned it was still early days in the national vaccination rollout.
“The risks of the spread of COVID is still very much real, and we need to continue all of our practices, social care and hygiene, and of course, if you are unwell staying home and getting tested if you have any symptoms, no matter how mild,” she said.