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Authorities downplay risk from Brisbane Airport virus case

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Health authorities have downplayed the transmission risk from a COVID positive man at Brisbane International Airport who was allowed to move about a “green zone” reserved for trans-Tasman bubble travellers.

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However, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the incident showed there will be lapses from time to time under trans-Tasman bubble arrangements.

Both Ardern and Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the risk to New Zealand travellers was low due to the circumstances of the incident and the mitigation procedures that followed.

On Friday, Queensland health authorities revealed a man from Papua New Guinea had tested positive after spending time in the airport.

Under the COVID-19 travel arrangements, people from higher risk countries like PNG are supposed to stay in ‘red zone’ areas of international airports.

However, a man and his companion were taken to the ‘green zone’ area, for trans-Tasman bubble travellers to NZ.

The pair spent two hours in the same area as 390 people bound for Auckland and Christchurch on Air New Zealand and Qantas flights on Thursday morning.

Prior to the discovery of the positive case, NZ health authorities had asked those travellers to monitor their health.

A government spokesman said New Zealand was in contact with Queensland Health officials about the breach.

Young said the international terminal was a “venue of concern” but considered the risk of transmission low given mitigating measures were followed.

“Through CCTV footage we’ve seen that people were wearing masks, people were maintaining social distance (and) the table that the two people sat at was thoroughly cleaned,” she said on Friday.

“We don’t have genome sequencing yet on this man, and we may not get that because the amount of virus was so low, which is a good thing.”

Anyone who was in the terminal between 9.45am and midday on Thursday is advised to monitor their symptoms and get tested immediately if they feel unwell.

The infected man was in the same area as passengers due to fly on Air New Zealand NZ202 from Brisbane to Christchurch, Air New Zealand NZ146 from Brisbane to Auckland, and Qantas QF135 from Brisbane to Christchurch.

Young said some airport staff were in quarantine but did not expect there to be broader consequences for Queensland as a result of the breach.

Ardern also suggested onward transmission was unlikely.

“At this stage officials consider it to present a relatively low risk to travellers,” she said.

She said the case showed “how important it is on both sides” of the Tasman to be vigilant at all international airports to keep the bubble from popping.

“We had to put a lot of work into the arrangements,” she said.

“From time to time, we are going to have to manage situations where there may be lapses.

“(We have to) continue to ensure (the rules) are applied, that we have rigour around them, and how careful everyone continues to work.”

Brisbane Airport Corporation blamed the incident on “human error” but said the areas where the pair were had been cleaned thoroughly and all green zone staff were wearing personal protective equipment at the time.

“BAC is conducting a thorough investigation and unreservedly apologises for this human error,” it said in a statement.

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