news

What you need to know about COVID-19 today, Saturday January 9.

NSW tightens hotel quarantine procedures after mutant virus strains detected.

NSW health authorities are on high alert, after a family of four returning Australians tested positive for the South African mutation of COVID-19 while in hotel quarantine.

Preliminary tests on the group, who recently returned from South Africa, detected the overseas variant, which is believed to be passed on at a higher rate.

"Further testing is underway to confirm these results, but as a precaution, the 16 people who were accompanying that flight have, as a precaution, moved to the Special Health Accommodation," NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant told media on Friday.

"That is because there are concerns that this South African strain does share a similar mutation from the UK, but may be associated with increased transmissibility. That is why we are taking a very cautious approach there."

NSW Health confirmed it has also detected six cases of the UK strain of coronavirus since November 30, with two of those still in isolation.

Speaking at Saturday's press conference, Dr Chant announced new protocols for hotel quarantine in response to increased numbers of positive cases and new variants.

Returned travellers who test positive will now be given more "timely" genome sequencing tests, will be isolated for at least 14 days after symptom onset, and will have an exit test before they leave. All staff at quarantine hotels will now undergo daily testing.

"We live in a global world and so all returning travellers are at increasing risk of having one of these mutations which need to be investigated, but some of the mutations are associated with increased transmissibility, and obviously we need to be vigilant for other impacts of the viruses as they change.

"This is a normal part of the evolution. It is what we expect viruses to do, but it is important that we, therefore, take a very precautionary approach."

NSW records one new case.

ADVERTISEMENT

NSW recorded just one positive case in the 24-hours to 8pm Friday, which was linked to the Barala cluster in Western Sydney.

Meanwhile, residents of the northern zone of Sydney's Northern Beaches will have their lockdown lifted as of midnight. The region, which was the epicentre of a cluster that emerged in December, will now be under the same restrictions as Greater Sydney, including mandatory mask-wearing at indoor venues and caps on home- and public gatherings.

Woman with UK strain flew from Victoria to Brisbane.

A woman with the more-transmissible UK variant of COVID-19 travelled from Victoria to Brisbane, Queensland authorities have confirmed.

The woman arrived in Victoria on December 26 after flying in from the UK. She returned a positive test in hotel quarantine on December 27 and completed 10 days of isolation. She cleared her symptoms and was allowed to leave Victoria and fly on a January 5 Jetstar flight to Queensland.

She was tested again yesterday and returned a positive result.

Queensland's chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said it's uncertain if she was infectious during her travels.

"That's why we are now following through with her contacts. The risk is extremely low, very, very, very low because she is right at the end of her potential infectious period, and with a normal variant, we would not be at all concerned," Dr Young said.

"But it is not zero risk, so we are just taking all of those precautions."

Brisbane lockdown prompts panic buying.

Bare shelves in Brisbane. Image: AAP.

ADVERTISEMENT

Greater Brisbane residents have spent their first night of three confined at home as Queensland battles to contain the more transmissible UK variant of COVID-19.

They face a nervous wait after a cleaner at one of Brisbane's quarantine hotels was diagnosed with the highly-infectious mutant strain of coronavirus. 

Authorities fear the cleaner, a woman aged in her 20s, had been infected and active in the community since January 2. 

Residents in the council areas of Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Moreton Bay and Redlands must stay at home until 6pm on Monday, except for essential work, exercise, essential shopping and to access healthcare or to look after the vulnerable.

The three-day lockdown prompted panic buying on Friday as massive crowds flocked to supermarkets stripping shelves of toiletries, perishables and canned goods with lines stretching for hundreds of metres at some stores.

For the first time in Queensland, masks will also be mandatory for people leaving home, aside from children under 12.

ADVERTISEMENT

Meanwhile, as the southeast grapples with the tight new restrictions, fragments of COVID-19 have been detected in sewage at four more sites in Queensland.

Wastewater treatment plants in South Brisbane, Townsville, Hervey Bay and Maryborough have tested positive to COVID.

"This does not mean we have new cases of COVID-19 in these communities, but we are treating these detections with absolute caution," Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said.

"A positive sewage result means that someone who has been infected was shedding the virus. Infected people can shed viral fragments, and that shedding can happen for several weeks after the person is no longer infectious."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the situation was "very serious".

"We know there is only one case, but ...this new strain is some 70 per cent more transmissible than the previous strains of the virus," he said on Friday.

"This strain is likely to become in the very near future, the dominant strain, as it largely already is in the UK, but we anticipate that this will become the more dominant strain of the virus globally."

Anyone with any symptoms is urged to undergo testing and self-isolate.

Meanwhile, states have moved to enforce travel restrictions after Greater Brisbane was declared a hotspot at Friday's National Cabinet meeting. People travelling from Greater Brisbane to Western Australia, the Northern Territory, ACT, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia will face either a hard border or 14-day quarantine.

Victoria continues its case-free streak.

Victoria has recorded a third consecutive day without a locally acquired COVID-19 case.

One case was uncovered in the state's hotel quarantine system.

The streak has Premier Dan Andrews upbeat in the belief contact tracers are winning the fight against the 27-case outbreak linked to a Thai eatery in Melbourne.

ADVERTISEMENT

Meanwhile, interstate travel headaches for the state's residents continue.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton urged Victorians in the Brisbane, Moreton Bay, Redland, Ipswich or Logan council areas of Greater Brisbane to cancel plans to return home, amid the city's hard lockdown.

"All Victorians in these areas are advised to follow the guidance of the Queensland government and any Victorian with plans to travel to these areas should cancel them," Prof Sutton said on Friday.

Those who have arrived in Victoria from the Greater Brisbane area since January 2 should get tested and self-quarantine until Monday when a further assessment will be made, Prof Sutton said.

UK reports record daily high virus deaths.

The UK has reported 1325 new deaths from COVID-19, its highest daily figure since the outbreak of the pandemic, with another 68,053 additional cases.

The total eclipsed the previous record number of deaths reported on April 21, 2020, of 1224.

England entered a new lockdown this week with a "stay at home" message as health officials cited rising hospital admissions that threaten to overrun the National Health Service (NHS).

London declared a major incident on Friday because its hospitals were at risk of being overwhelmed by a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus racing "out of control" across the United Kingdom.

"Each life lost to this virus is a tragedy but sadly we can expect the death toll to continue to rise until we stop the spread," said Dr William Welfare, Director for the COVID-19 response at Public Health England.

"To protect our loved ones it is essential we all stay at home where possible. This will reduce new infections, ease the pressure on the NHS and save lives."

- With AAP.

Featured image: AAP.

00:00 / ???