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Coronavirus Covid 19: Contact tracers may not be able to save Sydney from lockdown after number of cases doubles

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A worker directs traffic along Campbell Parade with long queues to enter the Bondi Beach Drive-through Covid-19 clinic today in Sydney. Photo / Getty Images

Contract tracers could fight a losing battle to contain Sydney’s latest coronavirus outbreak, with a lockdown appearing increasingly likely, Australia’s leading medical body warns.

The number of cases nearly doubled for the second day in a row after 16 new locally acquired cases brought the Bondi cluster to 37.

It drew parallels with how cases rose in Melbourne shortly before the city entered one of the world’s longest shutdowns.

The rapid surge alarmed experts, Australian Medical Association Vice President Dr Chris Moy calling them “worrying” numbers.

He said the original Covid-19 strain that forced Victoria into lockdown last June was not as contagious as the Delta strain that gripped Sydney.

“This is a matter of concern because the Delta strain is of greater concern,” Dr. Moy told NCA NewsWire.

Australian Medical Association vice president Chris Moy said NSW's coronavirus contact tracers are highly valued, but they may have their work cut out for them to bring the Delta strain under control.  Photo / Supplied
Australian Medical Association vice president Chris Moy said NSW’s coronavirus contact tracers are highly valued, but they may have their work cut out for them to bring the Delta strain under control. Photo / Supplied

“The contact time is 10 seconds or fleeting contact and it escapes the hotel’s quarantine on several occasions and this is of great concern.

“There are parallels to the Victorian situation and it happens when there are very few restrictions.”

He said even NSW’s “highly rated” contact tracers might not be able to nip this spread in the bud, because it is so contagious.

“There is still this reliance on NSW on their popular contact tracers, but even they would be very worried,” he said.

“Ultimately, if it continues to escalate like this, no matter how good your contact tracing is, they will be looking to pull the lever on a lockdown.”

An outbreak at the Cedar Meats slaughterhouse in Victoria has seen a cluster of eight confirmed cases skyrocket to 90 in 12 days in 2020, according to a report from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

On May 26, an official at one of Melbourne’s quarantine hotels tested positive, with five security guards and their families joining the group.

Victoria switched to a stay-at-home order on June 30, when the state registered 108 new cases.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Wednesday imposed tougher restrictions, including wearing masks indoors and banning all non-essential travel outside Sydney.

Monash University immunologist professor Alan Baxter noted the similarities between the numbers before Victoria’s second lockdown.

“With a doubling time of around 24 hours and 23 cases today, Sydney is now where Melbourne was exactly a year ago. Hopefully they learned from our example,” he tweeted .

Professor Baxter told NCA NewsWire that “tomorrow’s numbers will make the situation much clearer.”

If there is one saving grace, it’s that residents of institutions for the elderly are generally vaccinated, Dr Moy said.

“The only good thing is that the vast majority of nursing home residents have been vaccinated and this is where the majority of deaths have occurred (in Victoria),” Dr Moy said.

Professor Peter Collignon, of the Australian National University Medical School, said NSW still had a way out of the rapidly spreading virus, noting that the state’s communication with the public at exhibition sites was much more fast.

The senior epidemiologist said NSW’s early testing regimen through rigorous contact tracing, which Victoria did not have, was the reason for the rapid escalation of positive tests.

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“It’s different from Melbourne last year because they had a pretty poor contact tracing,” Prof Collignon said.

“There were places, like the slaughterhouse, where there were 100 cases and Victoria did not announce the names of the places where it was happening.

“Victoria only encountered real problems when she has had 30 or more cases a day and it is too early to predict the numbers.”

He expected a low number of double-digit positive cases in the coming days, but was more concerned about unrelated community transmission.

“I’m not going to be surprised with 10 a day for a few days, but hopefully most of them are already isolated,” he said.

“The number that worries me are all the cases of community transmission that are unrelated and that so far have not been in large numbers.

“For every person you find who is unrelated, there is another in the community that you missed.”

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