In today's COVID-19 wrap, WA records its third day of no new locally-acquired cases, disease experts review their transmission theory and the Liberals slam the state's hotel quarantine system.
Western Australia has not recorded any new locally-acquired cases of COVID-19 for the third consecutive day, but Premier Mark McGowan has warned that the state is not out of the woods yet.
The state is now more than halfway through a five-day lockdown of the Perth metropolitan, Peel and South West regions after a hotel security guard at Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Perth's CBD contracted the UK strain of the coronavirus from a returned overseas traveller.
The guard, a man in his 20s, is understood to have contracted the virus while working on the same level as the traveller’s room, and had reportedly not been wearing a mask while doing so.
In the past three days, more than 32,800 Western Australians have presented for testing, including more than 138 of the man’s 189 close contacts now in quarantine.
The 54 returned overseas travellers due to be released from hotel quarantine at the Four Points by Sheraton were held back and tested. All returned a negative result today.
Mr McGowan said he expected a gradual easing of restrictions from 6pm on Friday, provided no new cases were recorded in the next two days.
The state’s disease experts will review their COVID-19 transmission theory and hotel quarantine policies after it was revealed that the hotel security guard at the centre of WA’s five-day lockdown had no direct contact with the infectious traveller.
Initially, Health Minister Roger Cook had said the transmission was suspected to have occurred on January 24 after the security guard had delivered medication to the room of a traveller who had tested positive for the UK strain of the virus.
But today, Mr Cook clarified that that was incorrect, and that the guard had remained at a static location near a stairwell at least two doors away from the room of the traveller believed to be responsible for the transmission.
The room was visited about seven times that day, but only by authorised personnel donning full personal protective equipment.
WA Communicable Disease Control director Paul Armstrong said health authorities were now reviewing the transmission hypothesis that had formed the basis of the state’s hotel quarantine system requirements and policies for the past year, exploring all options to determine how the ever-changing virus could have been transmitted and amending the policy accordingly.
“Now we don’t know whether the higher transmissibility of this virus is caused by it being able to be transmitted by air, but we have to be open to all options,” he said.
“It goes against what we understand what we understand about the virus and it may be that a surface was contaminated by that person and he touched that surface; that’s another possibility.”
Public health officials are expected to provide a full report on the incident in the coming days.
The state president of the Australian Medical Association has weighed in on the transmission of the UK strain of coronavirus at a Perth hotel, saying he is disappointed its concerns about the hotel quarantining system weren’t addressed earlier.
Since March last year, AMA president Andrew Miller said it had been clear to scientists that airborne spread, while not always the most dominant method of transmission, was an important method of coronavirus transmission and urged the state to distribute additional personal protective equipment for airborne precautions.
“It has been obvious to those of us working on the frontline in Health care that we will need to be protected from it because of its potential to travel through the air and, therefore, we need lots of good ventilation and we need to have airborne level PPE,” he said.
“If we don’t adopt an approach that mitigates against, that protects against airborne spread in indoor situations, then we will fail again and again and again.
“There is a real problem with the advice that is being passed on to the government in regard to hotel quarantine and I think the community now understands that.
“There does need to be change, and we’ve been saying for months that this is a problem.”
The Liberal Party has added to its list of demands for the state government, calling on the government to provide an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for hospital staff and hotel quarantine workers.
During a press conference this morning, opposition leader Zak Kirkup said he was disturbed by news that doctors and nurses were well short of the necessary PPE and not all hotel quarantine staff had been required to wear masks.
He also said the state government had let the chief health officer and the state down by not implementing the necessary measures.
“The reality is that we’re in a five-day lockdown because we have seen failures in our hotel quarantine system,” he said.
"Unfortunately, after all this time, after Western Australians have done all this heavy lifting, there still seems to be a lot of confusion within the government about the exact circumstances surrounding what has occurred and what can and cannot happen in a hotel when dealing with a returned traveller.
“The chief health officer’s advice is very, very clear, and we support that, but the government has failed to implement that accordingly.
"I think we're at a point now where we should see some leadership and some admission that they have failed.”
Mr McGowan refuted claims that the state did not have enough PPE, saying the allegations were completely untrue.