One of the passengers from Papua New Guinea who was let into the ‘green zone’ at Brisbane airport to mingle with trans-Tasman travellers has subsequently tested positive for COVID.
However, Queensland Health Officer Jeannette Young played down the threat, suggesting that the man was at the end of his illness and unlikely to be infectious.
Yesterday, Australian Aviation reported how two people from COVID-hit PNG were able to mingle in the common areas of the terminal for two hours. Brisbane Airport apologised and blamed human error for the mix up.
On Friday, it emerged nearly 400 travellers awaiting three different flights to New Zealand were in the departures terminal at the time.
The flights were an Air New Zealand NZ202 from Brisbane to Christchurch, Air New Zealand NZ146 from Brisbane to Auckland and Qantas QF135 from Brisbane to Christchurch.
The PNG pair, the other one of whom wasn’t infected, were in transit waiting to board a Qatar flight later that day.
Queensland’s CHO Young said the person initially recorded an inconclusive result, which, along with a serology result, suggested he was at the end of his illness. CCTV also shows they had minimal interaction with other passengers, and spent most of their time in a coffee shop.
“We know that the risk is always in that 48 hours before someone develops symptoms, at the start of their illness,” Young. “He’s right at the end and he’s well.
“The risks are all adding up to be less and less and less.
“Staff who came into contact with this case have been placed into quarantine.”
She added that anyone who visited between 9:45am and midday on Thursday should monitor their symptoms and get tested immediately if they feel unwell.
In order to keep quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand safe, passengers from the two countries are separated from other international travellers in a so-called green zone.
That means that there will be no passengers on ‘bubble’ flights who have come from anywhere but Australia or New Zealand in the last 14 days.
They are also flown by crew who have not flown on any higher risk routes for a set period of time.
Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) said on Thursday evening it was working with Queensland Health to investigate the circumstances of the breach and “unreservedly apologises”.
Two weeks ago, World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said the situation in Papua New Guinea was “a perfect example of why vaccine equity is so important”.
“It has held COVID-19 at bay for so long,” he said. “But with rising infections, understandable fatigue with social restrictions, low levels of immunity among the population and the fragile health system, it’s vital that it receives more vaccines as soon as possible.”
It comes just days after New Zealand restarted the trans-Tasman bubble to WA after Perth’s lockdown ended.
Quarantine-free flights were suspended last week after Perth and the Peel region entered a three-day shutdown. WA imposed the restrictions after it emerged a Victorian man who had spent five days in Perth subsequently tested positive for COVID.