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Four-day delay: How size of NSW outbreak stalled efforts to trace infected truckie

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Queensland Health is tracing the movements of a truck driver who brought COVID-19 into the state from NSW. Contact tracers may also have an infected schoolgirl to contend with.

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Today’s routine COVID-19 update was delayed while Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young grappled with a potentially new, community-acquired case involving a 13-year-old girl at Sunnybank.

St Thomas More College at Sunnybank.

The girl had this week been to St Thomas More College at Sunnybank, where the principal has now been told the students should “immediately be picked up and taken home and go into quarantine for 14 days unless we get other information that will change that advice”.

The school was abruptly closed on Friday, with parents ordered to immediately collect their children, go home and remain there until further notice.

All households with a student at the college are now subject to strict quarantine orders that won’t be lifted until authorities determine if the girl has passed the virus to anyone else.

All students and staff who attended the college on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week are considered close contacts of the girl.

Other close exposure sites include the Coles store at Pinelands Plaza on Monday afternoon, and the Banoon train station pedestrian overpass on Tuesday morning and afternoon.

Young said genomic sequencing would help confirm whether the girl had COVID-19 and, if so, what variant and when she would have been infectious. Young decided to take precautions but said it was too early to know whether Brisbane faced a new outbreak and potentially a lockdown in response.

“I need more information, truly, I can’t make decisions with five minutes’ worth of information,” Young told reporters.

The strength of the south-east Queensland mask mandate – which includes high schools – will also be tested by the infected truck driver having visited Westfield Garden City on September 5 and 6, while his illness was potentially contagious.

Masks were required indoors at the time, however the man in his 20s also visited the food court and cafes, including Grill’d twice, where people are allowed to remove masks to eat and drink.

The man had been given a routine test for COVID-19 in NSW on September 5 but Queensland Health was not notified until Thursday – four days later. The alarm was raised late on Thursday afternoon.

Young said the scale of the NSW outbreak was causing delays in test results being available. Her comments came as NSW reported another 1,542 cases and nine deaths.

Not yet sure of the scale of the threat to Queensland, Young urged people to check the list of exposure sites and get tested themselves. Pop-up testing clinics have been established in Brisbane’s south.

“It’s now five days later and we know that the Delta variant, which I assume this is … transmits very quickly,” she said.

A previous mini-outbreak at Beenleigh was sparked by another truck driver carrying the virus north, following several earlier scares, but Young said freight still needed to be carried between Queensland and NSW.

“There’s a lot of truck drivers that need to cross that border – it’s in the thousands and thousands every single day,” she said.

The NSW announcement that various regional council areas will emerge from lockdown on Saturday has prompted Queensland to reinstate the border bubble with most neighbouring councils from Monday. They are Tweed, Ballina, Byron, Moree Plains, Gwydir, Clarence Valley, Inverell, Glen Innes Severn, Tenterfield, Kyogle, Richmond Valley and Lismore.

The bubble will allow people to cross the border for essential work, healthcare and shopping, to care for others, and go to school, however any essential workers will still have to show evidence they have had at least one dose of vaccine. Travel further afield will still be restricted.

Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said there would be traffic delays – every vehicle may be checked – and encouraged any would-be travellers to check they have the appropriate paperwork. Anyone who in the previous 14 days has been to a local government area of NSW still in lockdown will not be allowed to enter Queensland.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk again called on Queenslanders to get vaccinated.

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