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Hold tight: Masks for another week and then all eyes turn to Ekka

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People have been travelling in and out of Queensland, sometimes via hotel quarantine, with COVID-19. Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young says everyone else must continue to protect themselves.

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An Australian man who has been staying in a Brisbane backpackers, in a case reported yesterday, has been found to have the Alpha variant. While it is less contagious than the Delta variant, some 62 other guests and staff have already been isolated and tested – and Queensland Health has discovered he also took a trip to Western Australia.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said genomic sequencing showed the man was infected while travelling from the Philippines to Brisbane, via Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

He then went into hotel quarantine for 14 days and tested negative three times before he was allowed to leave, which Young said was an unusually long incubation period but not unheard of.

“He’s clearly acquired it in transit to Queensland,” Young said, noting three other travellers on those flights had the same infection.

After leaving the Quest Hotel, the man then flew to Perth but, due to travel restrictions, was not allowed into Western Australia, instead being put into a hotel for two days before a flight back to Brisbane. Queensland Health is now trying to contact those who were near him on the same flight.

It was only while the man was staying in the hostel that he started to experience symptoms. Two people staying in the same room have so far tested positive, but Queensland Health will continue contact tracing and monitoring the situation.

“I am very relieved it is the Alpha strain and not the Delta strain,” Young said.

With multiple mini-outbreaks, and breaches of the quarantine network, Young said she believed masks had helped keep the community safe in recent weeks. For that reason, and the ongoing outbreak in Greater Sydney, masks will be kept on.

The mandate on masks in 11 local government areas of Queensland was due to be lifted on Friday but will now remain for another week – on the eve of Brisbane’s annual show, the Ekka.

Young said she would continue talking with show organisers about the risk environment. The last Ekka was cancelled for the first time since World War II.

“Every single day, something is happening, and there’s quite a few days between now and the start of the Ekka,” she said.

Young also appeared willing to give the National Rugby League a reprieve, after the latest hotel quarantine breach, saying she had received a response from organisers and “there were some mitigating circumstances for the individual”.

But she continued to call for alternative quarantine arrangements, saying COVID-19 kept spreading around doorways and corridors in hotels, even when CCTV footage showed no reason for it to do so.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath urged the government to fast-track its plan for a dedicated quarantine facility, with air-separated rooms, at Meeandah. She said there was only so much Queensland Health could do to reduce risk in hotels.

Almost 3,000 people remain in home isolation, and Queensland Health has this week relieved pressure on hotels by allowing some travellers returning from South Australia and Victoria to go straight home, and the guests at two exposure site hostels to remain there.

After a bulk carrier in Weipa was found to have an infected crew, 10 people were transferred to COVID-19 hospitals in Brisbane, with another nine remaining on board.

There are now 42 active cases in Queensland.

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