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International air crew linked to two new COVID cases in NSW

written by Hannah Dowling | June 17, 2021
Photo courtesy of Sydney Airport and Kurt Ams

NSW reported two new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, linked to a 60-year-old driver who regularly transports international aircrew, as well as a household contact of this case.

The cases, located in Bondi in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, are the state’s first in more than 40 days.

The driver, an Eastern Suburbs resident, is said to have returned a positive saliva test on Tuesday, which was then confirmed by a secondary PCR test on Wednesday, according to NSW Health.

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Health authorities confirmed late on Wednesday that a household contact on this case had also returned a positive result.

The state health body said neither the driver, nor his household contact, had been overseas recently, but the man is known to regularly transport international aircrew to hotel quarantine in his role as a driver.

It has not yet been confirmed that this is the cause of his infection.

“Urgent investigations into the source of the infection and contact tracing are underway, as is genome sequencing,” NSW Health said in a statement.

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In NSW, people who regularly interact with potentially infectious individuals, including hotel quarantine staff, airport staff, and designated transportation providers for hotel quarantine, are required to undergo a daily saliva test to screen for COVID-19.

However, despite being considered a frontline worker for the hotel quarantine system, the man has not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Following the driver’s positive result after the long weekend, and later his close contact’s result, a number of locations throughout the Eastern Suburbs have been identified by NSW Health as potential exposure sites.

Most notably, anyone who attended an advance screening of the Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard at Event Cinemas, Bondi Junction on Sunday, 13 June at 1:45pm is considered to be a close contact of the cases, and must inform NSW Health, get tested, and self-isolate for 14 days regardless of the result.

The state is preparing for Premier Gladys Berejiklian to make an address just after 11am on Thursday morning, which is expected to impose some new restrictions across the state.

The new cases come just days after it was confirmed that NSW would begin welcoming international students once more, in a new eight-week pilot plan to be rubber-stamped by the federal government.

Last week, the state’s Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, said the program would see 250 students per fortnight quarantine in student accommodation, rising to 500 per fortnight by the end of the year.

Flights will initially be chartered before transitioning to commercial services.

The move is hugely significant for international aviation given, currently, only Australian citizens, permanent residents and a limited number of skilled visa holders are allowed to enter Australia.

Those who do enter are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period, for which they have to pay up to $3,000.

Perrottet insisted that “not one returning Australian” will lose out on a plane ticket as a result of the plan.

“We will be running this alongside the 3,000 returning Australians that come into our hotel quarantine system every week,” he said. “This is a big win for the NSW economy.”

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