Victoria has halted new bookings for the Pfizer vaccine and locked down a large block of units in central Melbourne after two more people tested positive to Covid, while in Sydney authorities are investigating a possible spread of the virus in the quarantine system.
Anyone who had been at the Kings Park building on Melbourne’s Southbank between 2-14 June was ordered on Tuesday to isolate for 14 days after contact tracers identified the virus had transmitted between some residents in a common area of the building.
The Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, said the halt on new Pfizer bookings was to ensure that everyone who was due to receive their second Pfizer dose this week could book in. Some 50,000 people had already booked in to receive their first dose this week and those bookings would be honoured, he said.
“To manage the demand within the constraints of the supply of the commonwealth program, we are now in a position of having to calibrate those new bookings so no further new first-dose Pfizer bookings will be available this week and no walk-ups will be available for Pfizer this week,” Foley said.
The ban on booking a first dose of Pfizer also applies to aged care workers, disability support workers, and some other people in the 1a and 1b priority groups for vaccination. The exceptions, who are still able to book a first dose, include hotel quarantine workers, airport and marine port staff and police who are involved in operation Tidewatch.
The Victorian government also launched an online booking portal, replacing long waits in call centre queues.
Meanwhile, in New South Wales, the health department said on Tuesday night it was investigating the source of a Covid case diagnosed in hotel quarantine which had an identical viral sequence to two people staying in an adjacent room.
“It is currently unclear how and where transmission occurred from a couple to another returned traveller who were all staying on the fourth floor of the Radisson Blu quarantine hotel,” NSW Health said in a statement.
“Genomic sequencing has shown all three cases have identical viral sequences of the Alpha strain.”
The couple, who didn’t have symptoms, tested positive on a routine day two test on 3 June. The other returned traveller – the secondary case – returned a negative day two test on 3 June before subsequently developing symptoms and testing positive following a swab on 5 June.
“All three cases arrived into Sydney on the same flight from Doha on 1 June and stayed in adjacent rooms in the quarantine hotel,” the department said.
“Early possibilities as to where transmission may have occurred from the couple to the secondary case include on the flight, on transport from the airport to the hotel, in the lobby of the hotel, or while in quarantine. Currently, there is no evidence of further transmission.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Victoria’s coronavirus commander, Jeroen Weimar, said people would not miss out on their second shot of Pfizer, which needs to be administered between three and six weeks after the first shot, “provided they make a booking”.
“I have got 65,000 shots sitting there ready to be administered in the next two weeks,” he said. “There’s no anxiety here, there’s no fear here. People who have got their first Pfizer dose should be confident and calm that they will get their second Pfizer dose.”
The two new coronavirus cases were reported late on Tuesday and will be included in Wednesday’s figures. They are believed to be linked to shared stairs and walkways in the 100-unit townhouse complex on Southbank.
It brings the total number of positive cases in the complex to six, including a very young baby.
Both new cases are adult men who live in separate apartments that are “connected to some communal areas which we are concerned about”, Weimar said.
“We’ve got indications of transmission in some communal areas. We haven’t got evidence of transmission between people’s front doors so it’s not a hotel quarantine-type scenario.
“You’ve got apartments that are operating on communal hallways and stairwells, two separate hallways and stairwells are involved. Some of those we’ve now seen evidence of infection, others not.”
Other residents in the townhouse complex have now been locked down to isolate for 14 days.
Contact tracers tested 200 people at the complex on Monday after determining that a resident who tested positive to the virus on Friday had likely caught the virus from their neighbour, who worked at the Arcare Maidstone aged care centre.
Weimar said everyone who tests positive at the complex has been encouraged to go into hotel quarantine until the infection has passed, to reduce the chance of the virus spreading further. Three people – except the young infant and their mother – have taken up that offer.
But he said the public health rules had not been changed to require everyone who tests positive and lives in the complex, or anyone who tests positive and lives in an apartment building with shared facilities, to mandatorily enter hotel quarantine.
“This is the only example where they have found three instances of possible transmission in a community area,” he said.
Weimar said the townhouses would not be subject to a hard lockdown like that imposed on public housing towers last year as “this is a very different scenario”.
He also said the risk of airborne apartment-to-apartment transmission was lower in the townhouse complex than in a hotel.
“The Southbank apartments all have got individual front doors; most of the front doors go out to small stairways and out to the outside world,” he said. “There are many different entrances. The differences are vast.”
Foley would not be drawn on whether the new Covid cases would impact plans to ease restrictions in Melbourne and regional Victoria this week. The current rules are set to expire at 11.59pm on Thursday.
“When we have got more to say about that, as we always say, we will let you know,” he said.