How a 'double mutant' Indian Covid strain could pose a massive threat to Sydney

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The Sydney couple who have mysteriously tested positive to coronavirus are infected by the ‘double mutant’ Indian variant of the disease.

The B.1.617 strain was identified in the subcontinent in October, with two key mutations to the outer-spike protein that helps the virus bind and enter cells.

The couple have the second of three subvariants known as B.1.617.2. Scientists are not yet sure if the strain is more infectious or more deadly than original Covid, but many fear it probably is.

The Sydney couple who have mysteriously tested positive to coronavirus are infected by the 'double mutant' Indian variant of the disease. Pictured: A Sydney commuter

The Sydney couple who have mysteriously tested positive to coronavirus are infected by the ‘double mutant’ Indian variant of the disease. Pictured: A Sydney commuter

University of Sydney virologist Megan Steain told the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘The rate at which [the variant] seems to be spreading in India suggests that it may be transmitted more efficiently than earlier variants of the virus.’ 

India has suffered a wave of coronavirus cases and deaths in recent weeks, with a record 412,262 new cases on Wednesday.

Scientists believe current vaccines are effective at stopping severe disease from the Indian variant – and are urging people to get their jab as soon as possible. 

The infected couple are believed to have caught the virus from a mystery person who caught it from a US traveller in hotel quarantine. 

Border restrictions 

SA: Banned people who have been to exposure sites

WA: People who have been to exposure sites must hotel quarantine

QLD: People who have been to exposure sites must hotel quarantine

NT: People who have been to exposure sites must self quarantine

ACT: People who have been to exposure sites must self quarantine 

VIC: People who have been to exposure sites must self quarantine

TAS: Banned people who have been to exposure sites 

New Zealand: Border closed to NSW

Source: Government sites 

The outbreak prompted tough new restrictions were brought in for all of greater Sydney at 5pm on Thursday, including mandatory masks indoors, because of the ‘missing link’ – with contact tracers now racing to find the mystery infected person within the next three days.

Other states have taken a more relaxed approach to borders than last year, with only South Australia and Tasmania banning travellers from exposures sites.

Western Australia and Queensland are requiring exposed people to do hotel quarantine, while other jurisdictions only require self-isolation. 

New Zealand has paused flights with New South Wales.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian hopes to ease the restrictions as planned on Monday morning, but could extend the rules if the mystery link is not found.

The two positive infections are a man in his 50s who travelled across Sydney’s eastern, northern and western suburbs over the weekend while on a quest for a new barbecue, as well as his wife.  

The couple have contracted the first locally acquired cases of the ‘double mutant’ Indian B.1.617 mutation and NSW Health fear there is at least one other person who has been unknowingly infected.

‘The rate at which (the Indian variant) seems to be spreading in India suggests that it may be transmitted more efficiently than earlier variants of the virus,’ University of Sydney virologist Megan Steain told The Sydney Morning Herald. 

Using genome sequencing, experts linked the cases to a returned traveller from the US who has the virus, but so far they cannot explain how the traveller in hotel quarantine infected a couple from the eastern suburbs.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant explained the restrictions were brought in predominantly because they couldn’t figure out how it passed from the US traveller to the couple.

Greater Sydney, including Wollongong, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains, are now under new restrictions (pictured, a women wears a face masks as she walks along Sydney's George Street on Thursday)

Greater Sydney, including Wollongong, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains, are now under new restrictions (pictured, a women wears a face masks as she walks along Sydney’s George Street on Thursday)

This map shows all the venues an infected man in his 50s and his Covid-positive wife visited around Sydney while 'highly infectious'

This map shows all the venues an infected man in his 50s and his Covid-positive wife visited around Sydney while ‘highly infectious’

Both have a ‘high viral load’ meaning they are very infectious, pointing to an undetected case lurking around the city who is also still able to infect others.  

Experts now have until Monday morning to find the mystery case or the tough new restrictions – which ban Sydneysiders from dancing, standing in pubs, shopping without a face mask, or have more than 20 people over on Mother’s Day – could be extended.

‘What we’re concerned about is that there is a missing link,’ Dr Chant said.

‘We can’t find any direct link between our case, so what we’re concerned about is there is another person as yet unidentified that infected our case.’

Ms Berejiklian agreed, saying the rules were a ‘proportionate’ response while health officials tracked the source of the infection.

Health workers have been trawling through CCTV footage to try and work out how the mystery transmission occurred.

People wearing face masks enter Wynyard Station (pictured), after the restrictions were enforced on Thursday at 5pm

People wearing face masks enter Wynyard Station (pictured), after the restrictions were enforced on Thursday at 5pm

The window of transmission is likely between April 26, when the traveller arrived and quarantined at the Park Royal Hotel in Darling Harbour, and April 29, when they were moved to special health accommodation after testing positive on April 27.

The US traveller was staying in the Darling Harbour hotel, which is not one of the 14 suburbs listed in the man’s extensive search for the perfect outdoor cooker on Saturday and Sunday. 

Suburbs he did visit include Sydney’s CBD, Paddington, Bondi Junction, Rushcutters Bay, Silverwater, Annandale, Casula, Mascot, Moore Park, Rose Bay, Brookvale, Collaroy, Balgowlah and Double Bay. 

An increase in case numbers would also impact the government’s decision to ease or extend restrictions. 

A nurse collects Covid-19 test samples at the Bondi drive-through testing clinic on May 6, with a huge increase in testing numbers expected thanks to the two new cases

A nurse collects Covid-19 test samples at the Bondi drive-through testing clinic on May 6, with a huge increase in testing numbers expected thanks to the two new cases

THE 14 SYDNEY SUBURBS ON ALERT:

Sydney CBD

Paddington

Bondi Junction

Rushcutters Bay

Silverwater

Annandale

Casula

Mascot

Moore Park

Rose Bay

Brookvale

Collaroy

Balgowlah

Double Bay 

Previous infections in Sydney have been the result of contact with transportation between the airport and quarantine facilities. 

An outbreak in south-west Sydney in December was revealed to have been started by a bus driver who carried infected passengers to and from the airport.

With strict controls in NSW’s quarantine hotels, there are concerns it is this stage of the journey where the virus can slip out.  

The NSW premier and Dr Chant on Wednesday said the infected man had a ‘high viral load’ and was potentially highly infectious while in the community.

On top of the 14 suburbs, a range of eateries, entertainment venues and stores were put on alert after the infected man’s jaunt around the city. 

Ritzy Chinese eatery XOPP in Haymarket was added to the lengthy list on Thursday. 

Anyone who attended the two venues at the times specified is asked to get tested and isolate until NSW Health provides further advice. 

Ms Berejiklian announced the restrictions for the Greater Sydney region, including Wollongong, Central Coast and Blue Mountains. 

Dancing and singing are banned, except at weddings where 20 people are allowed to gather on a dancefloor, and face masks will be mandatory indoors and for hospitality workers. 

Gladys Berejiklian (pictured on Thursday) said her government's reaction was 'proportionate' since they did not know how the couple caught the virus from a returned traveller

Gladys Berejiklian (pictured on Thursday) said her government’s reaction was ‘proportionate’ since they did not know how the couple caught the virus from a returned traveller

NEW RESTRICTIONS FOR GREATER SYDNEY

  • Visitors to households limited to 20 guests – including children;
  • Masks compulsory on public transport and in all public indoor venues, such as retail, theatres, hospitals, aged care facilities and for front-of-house hospitality staff (except in a hospitality venue when eating or drinking);
  •  Drinking while standing up at indoor venues is not allowed;
  •  Singing by audiences at indoor shows or by congregants at indoor places of worship is not allowed;
  •  Dancing is not allowed at indoor hospitality venues or nightclubs however, dancing is allowed at weddings with a strong recommendation that no more than 20 people should be on the dancefloor at any one time; and
  • Visitors to aged care facilities are limited to two people. 

‘In relation to mask-wearing, mask-wearing at indoor places will be compulsory for the next three days,’ Ms Berejiklian said.

‘Public transport, if you go to the supermarket, any indoor event, will require compulsory mask wearing in addition to hospitality workers.

‘You can go and have a meal. You can enjoy a hospitality venue, but the workers will be expected to wear a mask for the next three days.’  

Despite the new rules, Ms Berejiklian was adamant it was ‘business as usual’ for the next three days in Greater Sydney.

Nurses prepare for the arrival of people requiring COVID-19 tests at the Bondi Beach testing clinic on Thursday after the two new cases were announced in the eastern suburbs

Nurses prepare for the arrival of people requiring COVID-19 tests at the Bondi Beach testing clinic on Thursday after the two new cases were announced in the eastern suburbs

‘But we are asking people just to take extra precautions if you have a looking for Mother’s Day, go to the booking, go to the restaurant if you have a family gathering at home, that’s great, but just limit it to 20 people,’ she said.

‘And if you are using public transport to go to a footy match or another event please wear a mask on public transport.

‘We know that at least one person has been going around Greater Sydney with the virus, we don’t know who they are, we don’t know who they’ve been in contact with.’

The premier said it is a ‘a very measured proportionate response’ to the risk. 

More than 42,000 people in the inner west are also on high alert after virus fragments were found in wastewater from a sewage plant.

Affected suburbs include Marrickville Dulwich Hill, Summer Hill, Lewisham, Ashfield, Haberfield, Petersham, Lilyfield and Leichhardt.

NSW Health urged everyone in those areas to be especially vigilant in monitoring for symptoms, and if they appeared, to get tested and isolate immediately until a negative result is received.

SYDNEY VENUES ON ALERT 

Anyone who attended one of the following venues at the times specified is asked to immediately get tested and isolate until NSW Health provides further information.

Fratelli Fresh, Westfield Sydney, Pitt Street

Tuesday April 27, 1.15pm – 2.15pm

XOPP, 1 Little Pier Street Haymarket

Wednesday April 28, 1.30pm – 2.30pm

Bondi Trattoria, 34 Campbell Parade Bondi Beach

Thursday April 29, 12.45pm – 1.30pm 

District Brasserie, 2 Chifley Square in Sydney

Friday April 30, 11am – 11:45am  

HineSight Optometrist, Sofitel Sydney Wentworth – P2/61-101 Philip Street in Sydney

Friday April 30, 12pm – 1pm

Barbetta, 2 Elizabeth Street in Paddington 

Friday April 30, 1:30pm – 2:30pm 

Event Cinemas Bondi Junction, screening of The Courier

Friday April 30, 6pm – 8pm

Figo Restaurant, 3/56-60A Bayswater Road in Rushcutters Bay 

Friday April 30, 8.45pm – 11pm

Joe’s Barbeques & Heating, 142 Silverwater Road in Silverwater

Saturday May 1, 1pm –1.45pm

Tucker Barbecues, 138 Silverwater Road in Silverwater

Saturday May 1, 1pm – 1.45pm

Barbeques Galore, G1/212-220 Parramatta Road in Annandale

Saturday May 1, 2pm – 3pm

Barbeques Galore, The Crossroads, Unit 12B, Parkers Farm Place in Casula

Saturday May 1, 4pm – 5pm

BP Mascot, 1077 Botany Road in Mascot

Saturday May 1, 4.30pm – 5pm

The Meat Store, 262 Oxford Street in Bondi Junction

Sunday May 2, 3pm – 4pm 

The Stadium Club, Moore Park – Entertainment Quarter, 122 Lang Road

Monday May 3, 11.30am – 12.30pm 

Azure Cafe, Moore Park – Entertainment Quarter, Shop 5a 

Monday May 3, 12.30pm – 1pm

The Royal Sydney Golf Club, Kent Road, Rose Bay 

Monday May 3, 12.30pm – 1pm

Rug Cleaning Repairs Hand Rug Wash Sydney, 8/52-54 Sydenham Rd, Brookvale

Monday May 3, 12.30pm – 1pm 

Alfresco Emporium, 2021 Pittwater Rd, Collaroy 

Tuesday May 4, 1pm – 1.30pm

Smith Made, 14/28 Roseberry Street, Balgowlah

Tuesday May 4, 2.30pm – 4pm 

Chemist Warehouse, 459-463 New South Head Road, Double Bay

Tuesday May 4, 3.45pm – 4pm

Woolworths, Kiaora Lane and Kiaora Road, Double Bay

Tuesday May 4, 4.05pm – 4.15pm 

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