‘Hundreds of new cases’ as COVID stalks the community
A CORONAVIRUS cluster of seven cases linked to the Brisbane Youth Detection Centre has triggered fears about silent community transmission of the virus in Queensland's southeast.
The Sunday Mail can reveal health bosses are particularly concerned about exposure at a disability accommodation service and an Ipswich Hospital Emergency Department.
Authorities have warned more positive cases will be uncovered in the coming days as contact tracers work around the clock to document the movements of those infected.
Griffith University infectious disease expert Nigel McMillan said the latest cluster had shown the potential for the virus to be spread silently among asymptomatic carriers, going undetected through communities.
"Up to 80 per cent of people don't even have symptoms so they wouldn't even think to go and get tested," Professor McMillan said.
"That's what makes COVID-19 … particularly problematic."
As the state found itself at a COVID crossroads authorities worked swiftly to slow community transmission with new strict restrictions and lockdowns.
The six new detention centre infections come after a 77-year-old Bundamba woman who worked at the facility as a supervisor tested positive on Wednesday.
Of the six new cases four are staff at the centre and two are relatives including; a male from Marsden, a female from Forest Lake, another male who also does work for QBuild and lives in Carindale and his partner who also tested positive, a male who works at the centre and lives in North Ipswich and also works for a disability accommodation service. A relative of that man had been in the Ipswich Hospital and also tested positive.
Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the latest cases in the cluster lived in Carindale, Marsden, North Ipswich and Forest Lake.
One of the infectious detention centre staff members also works in a disability accommodation service, sparking fears of an outbreak among vulnerable residents.
Another is employed by QBuild and has recently performed work at Springwood State High.
The link to a disability accommodation worker has caused alarm in the medical and disability sectors.
Griffith University lecturer and medical doctor Dinesh Palipana, who has quadriplegia, said COVID-19 could be very serious for those with disabilities.
"The risks for people with certain types of disability from COVID is significant," Dr Palipana said.
"There are physiological vulnerabilities that comes with having some disabilities, such as a spinal cord injury like mine, that can put you at increased risk. If I were to get COVID, the risk of complications is increased as my lung function is really poor because of the spinal cord injury."
While acknowledging concerns about the risks to people living in disability accommodation, Prof McMillan praised the Queensland Government's quick response to the latest cluster.
"This is, I think, where perhaps other jurisdictions might not have done so well," he said. "This sort of decisive early action gives us the best chance."
Nine new cases of the pandemic coronavirus were announced yesterday, including three sailors who have been transferred to hospitals from cargo ships off the Queensland coast.
It's the most new cases announced in a single day in Queensland for months.
Dr Young gave a stark warning to all Queenslanders.
"I can clearly say in Brisbane and in Ipswich, if you've got symptoms of the flu it's most likely to be COVID, not flu," Dr Young said.
"We've got very little flu in our community and we do have these seven cases of COVID."
Dr Young said there was clearly community transmission.
She has asked hospital emergency departments to use personal protective equipment when treating all patients, given the detention centre cluster, and hospital visitors have been restricted in the Metro South, Metro North and West Moreton regions.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called on Queenslanders, particularly those living in the state's southeast, that if they attended shopping centres where people were not practising social distancing, they should "leave immediately".
"We are concerned about the now seven positive cases linked to the youth detention cluster," she said.
"These people have been out and about in the community."
Queensland Health Minister and Deputy Premier Steven Miles said it was likely more COVID-19 cases would be detected over the weekend following the latest outbreak.
"This is precisely what we have been planning for," Mr Miles said.
"Our contact tracers are working and have been working through the night.
"Our rapid response capability has already been deployed."
Former Queensland Chief Health Officer Gerry FitzGerald said detention centre cluster could result in hundreds of infections if not controlled.
"Seven people have been in contact with X number who have been in contact with X number of people … a number of those are likely to have been infected as well," Professor FitzGerald said.
"If you look at the cluster that arose out of the Crossroads Hotel in New South Wales it is now in the order of one hundred or so."
He said it was concerning the origin of the Queensland cluster remained a mystery.
Gatherings inside people's homes throughout the region will be limited to 10 for the foreseeable future and to 30 for outside gatherings, such as in parks.