Four cases emerge from gold mine and send Darwin into lockdown
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A coronavirus outbreak in a Northern Territory gold mine has plunged Darwin and its surrounds into a two-day lockdown while threatening to spill over into the rest of the country.
Four new cases were reported in the territory on Sunday linked to a fly-in fly-out worker from the Newmont Corporation’s Granites gold mine, 550 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, who tested positive to COVID-19 on Saturday after acquiring the virus in a Queensland hotel quarantine breach.
The outbreak has sent several state and territory health authorities scrambling to trace 900 contacts who have departed the mine site and dispersed across Australia since coming into contact with the infectious worker. A further 754 workers at the mine are in isolation.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young on Saturday confirmed the worker had stayed overnight on floor five of the Brisbane airport Novotel quarantine hotel, while travelling from regional Victoria on June 18. Earlier this month Queensland authorities revealed there had been transmission between two people quarantining in neighbouring rooms on that floor, and extended people’s quarantine.
The four new cases recorded on Sunday include one in NSW’s Hunter New England region, two in isolation at the mine, and one who lives in Palmerston near Darwin.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the first case was not infectious in the NSW community. “The case is currently isolating in Hunter New England and poses no risk to the community,” she said.
That fourth case is a 64-year-old man who has not been in the community since arriving at Darwin airport from the mine, but 80 people who travelled on the plane with the man are now considered close contacts who will enter isolation.
The Darwin, Palmerston and Litchfield areas will enter full lockdown for 48 hours from 1pm today.
Health authorities urged residents to stay calm and follow the health advice. Territory’s Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, flagged the lockdown could continue beyond the 48 hours.
Mr Gunner said several things scared him about the outbreak, including that 15 people who flew from the mine to Darwin have not been contacted by authorities and the version of the virus circulating appeared to be the highly infectious Delta variant.
“We are expecting more cases … there is a stronger chance that any new cases will have exposure sites which makes the job of tracing and testing much bigger,” he said.
“If we wait and it gets worse it will be too hard to control. So we are taking extreme action right now to stop or slow any spread before the coronavirus is let loose in the territory and that means we need a lockdown.”
Northern Territory health authorities have been racing to contact 244 of the mine worker’s 900 contacts who are still in the territory. All of those who went through Alice Springs have been contacted and are isolating, while there were a further 211 people who flew to Darwin.
Of those, 196 have been contacted but authorities believe a number of the remaining contacts are camping and not in phone contact range. Mr Gunner said they would “assume the worst, assume they are positive, and assume that there are exposure sites” until they successfully made contact with the remaining workers.
Three flights carrying 252 workers have arrived in Perth, and West Australian Premier Mark McGowan said each of the workers were sent a text message and contact tracers were in the process of phoning and speaking to each of them. Of the arrivals, 177 who were on flights on June 22 and June 25 are considered close contacts.
As of Sunday morning, Victorian health authorities had identified three miners in the state who worked at the Granites gold mine. They are isolating.
“We expect that number to grow as we work with other jurisdictions to identify where those other 900 mine workers have travelled to,” Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said. “We understand they may have travelled fairly widely across Australia.
“If you were at the Granites gold mine between [June 18 and 25], please, stay where you are, isolate, get tested and contact us so we can support you during this isolation period.”
Dr Chant said health authorities were also tracing the worker’s contacts in NSW and asked. “We are asking anyone … who worked at the mine in the NT between the 18th and 26 of June and returned to NSW to immediately isolate and call their local public health unit on 1300 066 055 to arrange urgent testing,” she said.
“Can I just be clear, this case is not linked to our cluster. This is a new exposure related and linked back to Queensland so this person is believed to have been exposed in Queensland. That person then travelled to the mine and that case was notified and announced yesterday.”
With Matt Dennien
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