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Couple who sparked Qld virus alert were among five to flee Melbourne lockdown

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A Melbourne couple who travelled together through two states to the Sunshine Coast, have both tested positive for COVID as authorities continue to track and test potential contacts in three states.

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The woman and her husband left Melbourne while it was in lockdown and tested positive at the end of her road trip through NSW and into Queensland. He had a new job in the Sunshine State and they decided to travel the back way north.

Separately, three people were caught flying into New Zealand last week, having also left Melbourne during lockdown and trying to enter the country via Sydney.

The trio, understood to be a family who planned to attend a funeral, are now in quarantine after they were caught on arrival in Auckland.

While those three travellers have tested negative so far, the woman’s positive test on Wednesday, and confirmation today her husband was also infected, has put regional centres in NSW and Queensland on alert.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said follow-up testing suggested the couple were at the end of their infectious period when they arrived, so the risk to the public would have been greater as they travelled through NSW.

They made stops in Gillenbah, Dubbo, Forbes and Moree, visiting shops, cafes, and an accommodation venue with thermal pools. Anyone who was at those places around the same time as the couple will now have to be tested and isolate for 14 days.

After crossing the border at Goondiwindi, the couple travelled through Toowoomba to the Sunshine Coast where they visited several shopping centres, cafes and a Bunnings. People along their route have been urged to monitor their health and check the list of exposure sites.

Young said some 400 people who had been at the exposure sites had already come forward, while testing on 17 close contacts – including the woman’s parents at Caloundra – had so far been negative.

With the risk to Queenslanders now lower than authorities had feared, Young said there was no need to restrict access to aged care, disability services and prisons, except for anyone who had been to the exposure sites at the relevant time.

She confirmed the couple had not sought an exemption to the travel restrictions and police continued to investigate how they were able to avoid the 14-day hotel quarantine requirement imposed in the wake of the latest Melbourne outbreak.

Victoria’s health department said an emergency meeting of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee was held on Wednesday night.

It also raised the prospect of Victorian exposure sites related to the woman’s case, however it may be too late to make a definitive connection to other cases in the state.

“Any critical information will be provided to the public as soon as possible when case interviews for any potential Victorian exposure sites can commence,” the health department said.

The woman and her husband left an unidentified suburb on the edge of greater Melbourne on June 1, while the Victorian capital was in lockdown to control community transmission of the virus.

They then travelled through regional Victoria, crossed the border into NSW where they visited regional centres, and then entered Queensland on June 5 – two days after she started showing symptoms of coronavirus.

Gold Coast police will increase patrols at the State’s busiest border crossing and Acting Chief Superintendent Rhys Wildman said they would increase intercepts of vehicles from Victoria at the border after the breach that happened in the state’s west at Goondiwindi on Saturday.

“We are looking at putting additional resources into main points of entry into the Gold Coast,” Wildman said.

“But we have found that using our static and mobile operations together with the vehicle monitoring has proved extremely successful at keeping everybody here on the Coast safe.”

In the 24 hours to 5pm Wednesday, police intercepted 111 vehicles crossing the border into Queensland at the Gold Coast, and turned three around, preventing occupants from entering the state.

The intercepts were put in place to prevent travellers from Melbourne fleeing to Queensland after the Victorian capital went into lockdown two weeks ago to control community transmission of the virus.

“The approach that has been adopted has been a layered approach. We’ve got the advantage of having vehicle monitoring, static and mobile patrols and what we’re doing is targeted and random stops of individuals attempting to cross the border,” Wildman said.

“We have a level of comfort around our operations and how we’ve been conducting them for around two weeks now.”

Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski has promised to thoroughly investigate why the couple left Melbourne when a lockdown was in place, and warned that anyone who defied health directives could end up in court.

It came as six new cases of COVID-19 were detected in Queensland hotel quarantine.

Queensland Health is still encouraging people in the 1a and 1b groups, as well as those in their 40s, to get vaccinated, before it widens the eligibility criteria. The number of Queenslanders to receive at least one dose is expected to pass one million today.

Young said experts were still reviewing the impact of vaccinations – including those done overseas – on any travel restrictions.

“Just because you’re vaccinated doesn’t mean that you won’t get infected,” Young said.

Also on Wednesday night, the health department said COVID-19 viral fragments had been detected in a wastewater sample taken from a sewer sub-catchment near Bendigo.

The sub-catchment services the country town’s north-west suburbs and residents, plus visitors from June 3-7, are being urged to get tested if they develop symptoms.

The northern states’ scare and news of the Auckland incident came as Melbourne had confirmation its two-week lockdown was on the verge of ending.

On Wednesday, the state government announced Melbourne’s extended “circuit breaker” lockdown will cease at 11.59pm on Thursday, meaning people will be free to leave home for any reason.

But Melburnians will need to remain within 25km of their homes, unless working or studying, care giving or getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Acting Premier James Merlino said the measure was in place to keep Melbourne residents out of regional areas over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.

Restrictions will also ease further for regional Victoria from Friday.

Victoria reported just one new local case on Wednesday and it is a linked infection. There were three new cases in hotel quarantine.

– with AAP

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