Fears grow of Melbourne travellers bringing COVID to Sydney
Health Minister Brad Hazzard has been forced to defend the government's health screening process for travellers flying into Sydney from virus-riddled Melbourne, with concerned coalition MPs raising questions about safety measures in a private government meeting.
State Labor yesterday called for anyone flying into NSW from Victoria to be forced into two weeks of hotel quarantine, as it was revealed up to 200 people are coming into Sydney airport from Melbourne each day.
Interstate travellers flying into Sydney yesterday reported being packed like sardines on a Jetstar flight before catching taxis and Ubers home for two weeks of self-isolation.
Mr Hazzard is now considering implementing rules forcing anyone travelling from Melbourne to wear a mask during their journey.
Police Commissioner Mick Fuller asked Mr Hazzard to look at changing the rules in a bid to ease fears about travellers from Melbourne sparking coronavirus outbreaks on their return to Sydney.
Almost 107,000 Victorians have been allowed to enter NSW since tougher border restrictions were put in place on July 22.
Since then, 206,618 entry permits have been issued for people travelling into NSW from Victoria, including residents of border towns.
Coalition MPs privately raised concerns about the safety of the current airport measures yesterday, amid fears further community spread could send NSW into a Melbourne-style lockdown.
Mr Hazzard told colleagues a strict screening process was in place that involved the option of hotel quarantine if required.
Passengers who fly into Sydney from Melbourne are allowed to leave the airport by taxi or an Uber, but are told to sit in the back seat, wear a mask, and wind down the windows.
Readers of The Daily Telegraph yesterday overwhelmingly called for stricter virus controls, with 93 per cent of online poll participants calling for hotel quarantine to be mandatory. Passengers are assessed "on a risk management basis," Mr Hazzard told reporters on Tuesday.
Under the current protocols, health staff and police officers greet each plane as it arrives at the airport, where they screen passengers for COVID-19 symptoms.
"We determine whether or not they are safe to return to their homes … or if they require special health accommodation," Sydney Local Health District chief executive Dr Teresa Anderson said.
If any passenger displays symptoms, they are separated from other passengers, swabbed for COVID-19 and treated as if they have the virus. Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said anyone tested for coronavirus would be sent home "in a way that didn't expose anyone".
"That would not be the sort of patient we would be sending home in an Uber," Dr Chant said.
Labor yesterday joined calls for forced hotel quarantine while Melbourne is under its coronavirus lockdown.
"We just don't see a difference right now between Victoria as a hotspot and other parts of the world," Labor leader Jodi McKay said.
The government insists forcing people into hotel quarantine is not necessary because people here are not breaking self-isolation rules.
Police said NSW had "incredibly good compliance".
'IT WAS A PACKED OUT FLIGHT ... THAT REALLY IRRITATED ME'
Returned travellers from virus-hit Victoria have reported being packed like sardines on a Jetstar flight to Sydney on Tuesday.
Flight JQ510 was "completely packed" according to passengers with no physical distancing on board, but some advice pamphlets and hygiene kits were provided onboard.
Traveller Emily Vogele stopped in Sydney on her way to Queensland and said she was shocked that NSW did not have mandatory hotel quarantine for Victorians.
"I think it should be enforced hotel quarantine here, seeing what it's like in Victoria, you don't want that to happen in the other states," the 23-year-old said.
The Melbournian said she was temperature checked but did not get much other advice.
"It's insane, definitely hotels quarantine should be enforced. We have to get a bus straight to the hotel in Queensland," she said.
Ms Vogele is moving to Queensland to find a job, and said she was happy to foot the bill for her hotel quarantine.
Another passenger, who asked not to be named, said she was "irritated" by the lack of physical distancing aboard the flight.
"It was a completely sold out flight, sitting shoulder to shoulder with people. Everyone was wearing masks, but it was a packed-out flight," she said.
"That really irritated me."
A Jetstar spokesman said on all flights to and from Melbourne the use of masks is mandatory, and the airline provides passengers with a kit that includes masks and sanitizing wipes and spares are kept on board should masks need changing.
"From the moment they reach the terminal, they have to wear a mask," he said.
Meanwhile, one Uber driver at the airport said he was not wearing a mask because the government has not made them compulsory.
The driver said he was not concerned about picking up passengers returning from Victoria despite the neighbouring state's snowballing COVID-19 numbers.
"The government needs to say yes or no (to masks). They need to take a decision and not muck around with people. They've not really clearly said what we need to do," the driver said.
Another said he must continue working to sustain an income but is taking precautions.
"My car is sanitised, and I have face masks in my car for people if they want to use it. You still got to work so the best thing for me to is keep my car clean," he said.
"I have my aircon on airflow, I keep my windows down so the air can circulate. I live with two Aboriginal people so it's very important that I am careful as they are at a high-risk (of COVID-19)."
TREATMENT TO CURE COVID 'WITHIN SIX DAYS'
Head lice treatment ivermectin combined with zinc and a cheap antibiotic should be rolled out immediately to treat COVID-19, according to the man who helped discover the cure for peptic ulcers.
Centre for Digestive Diseases Professor Thomas Borody, who is running a clinical trial of the treatment in the US, said studies in Bangladesh and China show it can cure the virus in four to six days.
Some patients in Australia are already accessing the treatment through their GPs and a handful of anaesthetists and medical specialists are using it once a week as a preventive measure.
Professor Borody is himself using a lower dose of the therapy once a week to ensure he does not catch the coronavirus.
He says Australians who test positive to the virus that causes COVID-19 should immediately be given the triple therapy, so they don't end up going to hospital.
Once a patient becomes sick enough to need hospitalisation, the medication may not work.
At this stage doctors are treating the effects of the virus - organ damage, pneumonia, cytokine storm - not the virus itself.
"An Ivermectin tablet can cost as little as $2 - which could make it by far the cheapest, safest, and fastest cure for Australians and the Australian economy," he said.
"If nothing else, make it available in aged care homes immediately. Our elderly are at the highest risk and this is a very safe option especially when we have nothing else except ventilators," he said
"Also, our frontline workers deserve more protection with a preventive medication like this, and as emergency treatment if they test positive."
ANOTHER VICTORIAN BLUNDER AS TRACING APP DROPPED
Victorian health officials stopped using the COVIDSafe app to find close contacts of infectious cases in the midst of its horror second wave despite its proven success.
Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy told a Senate inquiry into the coronavirus response on Tuesday day that Victoria's public health unit ceased the app "because they were so pressured" and did not find value in it earlier in the pandemic.
Prof Murphy said they stopped using the app "for a period of time" but have since "committed" to using it after successful tracing in NSW.
COVIDSafe helped NSW Health identify 544 close contacts of a coronavirus case who attended the Mounties Club in Sydney's southwest.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said the COVIDSafe app provided an "extra layer of protection" and confirmed Victoria would be starting to use it again now.
"We have discussed this with the Victorian public health unit, and like a lot of systems and processes which they are looking at forensically now … it is our understanding that it has now been reintegrated into their workflow," Dr Coatsworth said.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the NSW experience had demonstrated how effective the app could be when incorporated into contact tracing efforts.
"NSW have confirmed data from the COVIDSafe app revealed a previously unknown exposure date from a known venue," he said.
"This resulted in the identification of an additional 544 contacts, with two people presenting for testing and subsequently confirmed to have COVID-19."
Originally published as Fears grow of Melbourne travellers bringing COVID to Sydney