The ACT has recorded two new cases of COVID-19 among people in hotel quarantine who recently arrived from Singapore.
ACT Health said yesterday that two travellers had recorded weak positive test results for the virus, but today they were confirmed as active cases.
It is the first time the ACT has had any active cases in hotel quarantine.
The new cases are both men — one aged in his 40s and another under 20 years old — who are unrelated, and who tested negative for the virus before departing from Singapore.
The flight arrived in Canberra on Monday.
ACT Health said it was likely they acquired the virus while in transit to Australia, and that they were not known to have come into contact with anyone who was unwell in the days before they travelled.
“They are being moved to a separate area of the hotel for further care and support and so we can closely monitor their symptoms,” ACT Health said in a statement.
An investigation is underway to determine how the men became infected, in collaboration with NSW Health and Singapore Airlines.
It had initially been thought the two men had been infected with the virus previously and the weak positives were a sign of virus “shedding”, which can occur in people who are no longer infectious.
But ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said today it was clear they were in the early stages of their infections.
“ACT Health is investigating both cases and doing some further testing, including genomic testing to identify whether they are the same source or different sources of transmission,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“We have been advised that both individuals tested negative before travelling to Singapore for that hub flight.
“So it’s likely, but not definite, they may have acquired the virus in transit.”
A plan has also been established to conduct further testing on the other 144 passengers who travelled on the same plane as the infected pair, but who all tested negative upon arrival.
“Any returned traveller who experiences any symptoms of COVID-19 at any point during the 14-day quarantine period will also be tested,” ACT Health said.
They also reassured the Canberra public that there were “strong systems” in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in hotel quarantine.
“As part of this, all staff working in hotel quarantine follow stringent PPE and infection control processes and participate in the Safeguarding Canberrans (SCAN) program in which they undergo daily symptom screening and regular COVID-19 testing,” ACT Health said.
ACT Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman said they had learnt lessons from outbreaks in other jurisdictions that developed from hotel quarantine.
“Some of those include that we actually don’t have people in the corridor monitoring, and therefore at risk, if and when people open the door to receive their trays of food and those kinds of things,” she said.
“We also allow and promote home cooking, with boxes of supplies, so there is no need for the doors to be opened every single day.
“So I think we’ve done everything we can to reduce the potential exposure, if there are virus particles out there.”
There are currently 195 people in quarantine in Canberra.
So far, 1,563 Canberrans have been vaccinated as part of Phase 1A of the ACT’s vaccination rollout.
The Health Minister said the territory’s first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines was scheduled to arrive within days, meaning the program would be fast-tracked.
Until now, only Pfizer vaccines have been administered in the ACT.
It is likely people will start receiving the AstraZeneca doses from next week.
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