South Australian authorities are no closer to determining how an outbreak occurred in hotel quarantine, after a forensic examination of CCTV footage found there had been no deliberate breach of protocols.
Authorities spent hours trawling CCTV footage overnight after a couple quarantining in South Australia tested positive to coronavirus, causing health officials to re-examine the spread of a cluster they thought they had contained.
"There has been no deliberate breach of protocols and no evidence of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is very pleasing," South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said on Wednesday.
Hours after South Australia's Chief Health Officer said she had "champagne on ice" to celebrate the containment of COVID-19 in the state, genomics test results linked two people to the Parafield cluster who were previously thought to have acquired the virus overseas.
The result means the couple – including a man in his 20s who tested positive yesterday – somehow caught the virus while inside the Peppers medi-hotel where they spent their mandatory two-week quarantine.
The development raises further questions about hygiene protocols inside South Australia's quarantine hotels. Mr Marshall has announced a suite of changes to South Australia's quarantine process including transferring all COVID-19 positive cases in hotel quarantine to a dedicated medical centre, probably the old Wakefield Hospital.
Mr Marshall said the Wakefield Hospital had the capacity to treat any increases in coronavirus cases across the state.
"There is a large capacity there which can be flexed up to deal with surges,'' he said.
Mr Marshall said he would also recommend to national cabinet that all returning Australians must test negative to coronavirus before boarding a flight home.
Security at the dedicated hospital will also now be provided exclusively by South Australian police and protective security officers.
Staff working at the dedicated medical facility will not be deployed to any other medi-hotels, or high-risk environments, including aged care facilities, correctional facilities or hospitals.
This rule does not apply to staff at the regular medi-hotels for all returned travellers, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said, confirming a worker at a medi-hotel could still work a second job at a pizza bar.
On Tuesday the Woodville Pizza Bar employee at the centre of a police investigation accused of misleading contact tracers said he was "extremely remorseful and deeply sorry" for his actions.
Last week Mr Marshall announced a six-day lockdown that would be the nation's harshest and shortest – but just three days later he called it off after it was discovered that the worker had misled contact tracers.
Chief Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said senior communicable disease experts had examined the still photographs of the CCTV from the medi-hotel and will now review the video sequence.
"That will be happening over the next couple of days," she said. "But on the basis of the stills, I can absolutely confirm that nobody was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Professor Spurrier said the experts will look at whether the outbreak had been triggered by misuse of face masks or spread by surfaces.
"There are subtle details that they are looking at," she said. "They're looking at whether people had touched their mask, for example. When did they touch their mask? When did they touch another surface? So you can imagine, it's very, very detailed information that they're needing to have a look at."
She said genomic testing had shown the couple had the same strain of COVID-19 as the other Parafield cluster cases.
Professor Spurrier said patient zero on the Parafield cluster was a security guard and not a cleaner as had first been thought.
"We now are fairly clear that the index case – the first person, the first staff member that was infected at the hotel – is one of the security guards, and not the cleaner," she said.
"We can tell that by knowing who was on what floor at what time. There was also absolutely no incidents of staff going into the travellers’ rooms and certainly no inappropriate behaviour at all.
"At this stage, we will have some hypotheses, working hypotheses about how we think both that initial security guard and then the couple who were the travellers in a room, became infected."
Professor Spurrier said investigators will now examine tiny details such as when vacuuming of the floors was undertaken and food packages were left outside doors to try and pinpoint how the cluster spread.
"We have been able to clarify that that person was working on the floor where the [returned traveller] from the UK was situated, but has also worked on the floor for the right sort of timing for the other couple who have come from Nepal," she said. "It means we can link that time and place … that epidemiological link is very reassuring."
Some returned travellers at the Peppers hotel had feared they may have to undergo a second round of quarantine as a result of the Parafield cluster.
Professor Spurrier said she was "very sure" that they would not have to re-start another round of quarantine, but could not guarantee it with absolute certainty, saying guests "would be the first to know" when the decision is made.
Professor Spurrier said as a precaution all staff and guests were tested again on Tuesday to ensure there was "absolutely no one positive in that facility".
The development came as a shock to authorities, after Professor Spurrier had said she was "quietly confident" that her team was on top of the Parafield outbreak.
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