Russian COVID-19 variant confirmed in five cases in Queensland hotel quarantine as wedding, funeral restrictions set to ease



Five people have been confirmed to have the Russian variant of COVID-19 in Queensland as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announces further easing of restriction for weddings and funerals across the state from Monday.

No further cases were linked today to the Qatar Airways flight that landed in Brisbane last month but genome testing found five of the six positive COVID-19 cases, that were previously detected, are the Russian variant.

Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said health authorities had managed to track down all eight people who had stayed at the Mercure Hotel in Brisbane on the eight floor and left between February 18 and 21.

Dr Young said all 74 passengers on the flight had been retested after their quarantine period was extended until Monday.

A Qatar Airways Airbus A350-900 on the tarmac on a lightly cloudy day.
Health authorities say the virus spread onboard the Qatar Airways flight.(Supplied: Qatar Airways)

“All of those have had one additional test, we’re doing a further additional test and then hopefully if there’s no positives there they’ll all be able to leave quarantine,” she said.

Health authorities are waiting to hear from New Zealand authorities if the sixth traveller who tested positive also has the Russian strain.

Wedding restrictions to ease

It comes as the state recorded almost 60 days without community transmission.

From Monday, weddings and funerals can have at least 200 guests regardless of the size of the venue.

Larger venues can have any number of guests, as long as the one person per 2 square meter rule is maintained.

“I know that’s going to mean a lot especially to our regional communities where there might be someone special from their community who has passed away,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

back of wedded couple at party
From Monday there is no longer a maximum of 200 guests at wedding venues.(Supplied: Andreas Rønningen on Unsplash)

“We know many people who have large weddings as well and this is wonderful news.

“Those easing of restrictions mean basically they’re almost back to normal.”

Vaccine fast tracked in Torres Strait

Queensland recorded one new case of coronavirus overnight which was detected in hotel quarantine from a worker at the Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea.

Yesterday five workers from the mine were among seven cases of COVID-19 detected in the state in hotel quarantine.

Dr Young said she was worried about the coronavirus situation in Papua New Guinea and said AstraZeneca vaccination efforts would be “fast-tracked” on the Torres Strait Islands to protect the community.

“I’ll be going through and doing the whole community on Boigu, Saibai and Badu, they’re the three island that are closest to Papua New Guinea.

“So of course we’ll do the healthcare workers and the border workers but at the same time we’ll be talking to those communities and we’ve started those discussions that every adult over 18 we’ll be offering the vaccine to.

“It won’t be mandatory but it will be strongly encouraged.”

Dr Young said Papua New Guinea was working to get the situation under control in the mining industry.

“The management of the Ok Tedi mine have been excellent. So they’ve suspended their current chartered flights that they bring those miners back into Queensland on so they can go home — they’re fly-in, fly-out.

“They’re working over there in Papua New Guinea to work through how they can improve their processes in their mines to try and stop the spread.”

Ms Palaszczuk said the state government was working with the Commonwealth to administer coronavirus vaccines to residents in the Torres Strait due to the escalating number of cases in PNG.

“We’re seeing large numbers of COVID in Papua New Guinea and I think everyone can appreciate to our wonderful brothers and sisters that live in the Torres Strait we want to ensure that they are protected,” she said.

“We want to make sure people living in the Torres Strait get the vaccine as quickly as possible … because of the risk of people coming from Papua New Guinea into the Torres Strait.”

Logan, Bundaberg to be vaccine hubs

Ms Palaszczuk said after discussions at National Cabinet, two new hubs in Bundaberg and Logan would be setup to begin the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“That is contingent of course on the vaccine supply arriving — it’s due today or tomorrow so we’ll wait to see we’ve got that supply for Bundaberg and Logan,” she said.

“It’s a progressive rollout and of course we’re focusing on the 1A group, which is our hotel quarantine workers and our frontline workers across those regions.”

About 6,534 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been administered across Queensland since the start of the state-run program.

AstraZeneca rollout on track

Meanwhile, Ms D’Ath said she’s confident the AstraZeneca vaccine will begin rolling out across the state within the next two weeks despite a decision to block a shipment of doses to Australia.

The Italian government has banned the export of 250,000 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, arguing Australia was not considered “vulnerable”, but the federal government said the national rollout would not be impacted.

Ms D’Ath said she expected Queensland to receive its share of doses from a recently arrived shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines within the next few days, but more detail was needed from the Commonwealth.

“It will be in the next week or two, we’ll definitely be rolling out AstraZeneca,” she said.

“We’re hoping to get more details from the Commonwealth of exactly how many, we’ve outlined to them how much we want in this shipment that’s just arrived and where we want it.

“But until we get absolute confirmation that they can deliver to those places and in the volume we need, we won’t be announcing the start-up.”

Ms D’Ath said the AstraZeneca vaccine was safe and just as effective as the Pfizer vaccine.

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