The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has tightened coronavirus restrictions in the state after a worker in the Australian Open hotel quarantine system tested positive for Covid.
Andrews said the new case was not, at this stage, likely to affect the tennis tournament due to start on Monday but would require up to 600 players and support workers to have another Covid-19 test.
The premier, in a late-night press conference on Wednesday, said health authorities were working on the assumption the 26-year-old Noble Park man had contracted the UK variant of the virus and had likely infected others. Genomic test results had not yet been finalised.
The new state-wide restrictions mean that from Thursday the number of visitors allowed in a private home decreased from 30 to 15 and face masks were once again mandatory indoors. Those are the same rules that were in place at the start of January in response to the Black Rock cluster.
A plan to allow more public and private-sector workers to return to the office from Monday – increasing office capacity to 75% – was also put on hold.
Andrews said the restrictions were introduced “through an abundance of caution” and he said there was “no need to panic”.
Contact tracing efforts and investigations to determine how the worker contracted the virus were in the early stages “but we have to assume that this person has, in fact, infected others”, the Labor leader said. Andrews urged anyone with the slightest symptoms to get tested.
The 26-year-old was working as a resident support officer as part of the Australian Open quarantine program at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne. His last shift was on 29 January. He received a nasal swab test at the end of that shift in accordance with Victoria’s daily testing regime for all hotel quarantine workers. It was negative.
He subsequently developed symptoms and got a Covid-19 test on Tuesday. The results were finalised on Wednesday and provided to the premier at 6.30pm.
Andrews said contact tracers would looking at CCTV from the hotel but at this stage he believed there had been no breach of protocols. The premier said there were six cases of the UK variant in quarantine at the Grand Hyatt hotel.
“At early stages, this guy’s had no contact with any of them. So that’s … the nature of this thing. We just have to wait and do more of that detective work.”
The Victorian premier added: “We all have to assume the international strain is, in effect, the UK strain. This thing is spreading so quickly. Through an abundance of caution we’re assuming the worst.”
Victorian authorities were also investigating how a returned traveller in hotel quarantine tested positive to the exact same UK variant of Covid as a family staying across the hall. They suggested the viral load was “so high” it jumped across the corridor.
Andrews said the Australian Open worker had been helping the contact tracing team. He and his housemates had been moved to managed isolation in a medi-hotel. His flatmates and other identified close contacts had been tested and contact tracers were working to identify other casual contacts.
Anyone who was at any of the eight places the man visited between 30 January and 1 February was advised to get a Covid-19 test on Thursday. “Please do not delay,” the state’s Covid response commander, Jeroen Weimar, said.
Weimar said 13 major testing sites in Melbourne’s south-east would be open from 8am to 8pm on Thursday with extended capacity. He warned there would still be long queues and he urged people to bring water and ensure they had enough petrol.
“We are also sending messages and reaching out to all of the work colleagues of this individual,” he said. “They will also be instructed to isolate and to get tested.”
Fire authorities were also contacting people who may have interacted with the man in his capacity as a volunteer for the Noble Park brigade of the Country Fire Authority.
Victoria had passed 28 days with no new locally-acquired Covid-19 cases – effectively elimination status. The chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said he was confident the state would reach the elimination stage again even though tests revealed the hotel worker “probably had a high viral load”.
“We will do it again,” Sutton said. “If we have to do it 10 times over, we can do it. We’ve got the tools.”