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'Stranger to stranger': Only fleeting contact enough to spread virus, say officials


Alarm is rising among Victorian health officials battling to contain the state’s latest COVID-19 outbreak over how quickly the virus is spreading from “stranger to stranger” after only the most fleeting contact.

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The state’s COVID testing commander Jeroen Weimar said there have been at least four instances of “stranger to stranger transmission” in Victoria after the slightest of contact.

“People are brushing past each other in a small shop, they are going to display homes, they are looking at phones in a Telstra shop,” he said.

“This is very, relatively speaking, fleeting contact. They do not know each other’s names and that is very different from what we have seen before.”

The new concern came as three new virus cases were recorded on Tuesday – the fifth day of the state’s seven-day “circuit breaker” lockdown – bringing the latest outbreak to 54 active infections.

The state’s Health Minister Martin Foley confirmed two of the new cases were close contacts of people who have already tested positive and have been self-isolating.  The remaining case is under investigation.

“They are not a known contact and are not directly linked to any exposure site,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

Weimar said the man lives near Stratton Finance in Port Melbourne, where a number of positive cases worked.

“He has exposure in the number of coffee shops around there also frequented by Stratton Finance employees … that appears to be enough to get the infection across,” he said.

Weimar urged anyone who visited busy shopping centres listed as exposure sites, including Craigieburn Central Pacific Epping, Epping North shopping centre and Broadway Reservoir, to get tested.

There are more than 300 exposure sites across the state and 4800 primary close contacts linked to the outbreak, with 75 per cent of those returning a negative test.

Meanwhile, the Victorian government has announced all aged care and disability workers will soon be able to jump the queue at mass vaccination centres.

Express lanes will be opened for aged care and disability workers from Wednesday to Sunday at 10 of the state’s vaccination centre.

Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers Luke Donnellan said the five-day blitz would ensure more workers in vulnerable settings are protected.

“This is about stimulating that demand and getting more workers to get greater coverage at the private aged care sector and the disability sector,” he said.

“We have concerns there isn’t enough coverage that is why we are stepping in.”

The move comes after two workers at Arcare Maidstone, an aged care facility in Melbourne’s northwest, and a 99-year-old resident tested positive.

The resident, who was taken to hospital for treatment, received just one dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

One of the workers also received a dose but the other, who also worked shifts at BlueCross Western Gardens in Sunshine from Wednesday to Friday, has not.

Both facilities have been locked down as all staff and residents are tested. There have been no additional cases so far.
Some 42,699 Victorians were tested in the 24 hours to Tuesday morning, while 20,484 were vaccinated.

Foley said it is too early to say whether the state’s lockdown will end as planned at 11:59pm on Thursday.

Earlier, federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said he did not know how many staff in the sector have been vaccinated against coronavirus, despite the fresh outbreak forcing several facilities into lockdown.

Colbeck said as far as the government was aware, almost 40,000 aged care workers had received both doses of their vaccines.

But he has no firm idea how many aged care staff have been inoculated.

“There are a range of different options that are available for staff and we are asking the aged care providers who hold the data to report that information back to us,” Colbeck told ABC radio on Tuesday.

“We don’t have the consolidated data.”

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