‘Worst nightmare’: Eerie truth about SA


An infection leak from hotel quarantine, a large extended family, multiple complicated movements and ominous warnings about a potential "second wave".

If it sounds familiar - that's because it is.

This time, however, it's South Australia - not Victoria - facing what the CEO of Anglicare SA this morning described as his "worst nightmare".

"The two outbreaks have started in exactly the same ways," Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of South Australia, Adrian Esterman, told news.com.au.

"We have a leak from a quarantine hotel into someone working at the hotel, who came from a large extended migrant family, who spread it to their family and then it went out of control. We're seeing exactly the same situation in Adelaide."

South Australia - which made it through relatively unscathed when COVID-19 first hit the nation earlier this year - is now facing its "biggest test to date", Premier Steven Marshall told reporters yesterday, with at least 20 people now linked to the Parafield outbreak.



Asked by reporters if the state was facing a second wave, chief health officer Nicola Spurrier said they "indeed" were, "but we haven't got the second wave yet".

"We are in very, very early days," Professor Spurrier said.

Professor Esterman agreed, adding that "there is a chance that it gets out of control".

But while the Adelaide cluster shares similarities with the situation in Melbourne in June, the chances of this outbreak getting out of control is a "low one", he said.

"Adelaide is smaller, we don't have the high density, high rise towers for example, we have a very strong and good public health system. So my own feeling is that we have a much better chance of controlling this outbreak and ringfencing the current cluster and stopping it from spreading than Victoria had," he explained.

A raft of rules were swiftly reintroduced and hundreds of Adelaide residents have queued at testing clinics, while the Premier assured all South Australians that they're "working around the clock to stay ahead of this".

Whether enough has been done, Professor Esterman said, we'll soon find out - with the next two days critical in understanding the true impact of the outbreak.

"These are very early days. The South Australian Government has acted incredibly quickly. If we can get this under control in the next 48 hours, then the restrictions that have been put in place are absolutely fine," he said.

"We will know very quickly because we've had a massive number of tests done yesterday, we had queues miles long to be tested and had to turn people away. So we will know within 24 hours what's out there, basically."

If case numbers linked to the cluster remain low, Professor Esterman said the "best case scenario" is that the new restrictions will stay in place for the intended two weeks and "then life goes back to normal".

"If it turns out that there's much more there than we were expecting - so, for example, it could've spread to the schools that are involved or the prison system or whatever - then it could well be that they have to put further restrictions on," he said.

"Worst case scenario is that we go into some sort of partial lockdown, potentially in a geographic area like the northern suburbs of Adelaide. It just depends on whether this whole thing is contained or whether it's spread further."

He's "optimistic", however, that the situation can be contained in the next two to three weeks.

Huge lines of people at the Parafield Airport testing tent, as thousands of Adelaide residents turn out for testing. Picture: Emma Brasier
Huge lines of people at the Parafield Airport testing tent, as thousands of Adelaide residents turn out for testing. Picture: Emma Brasier

Whether the outbreak remains small or balloons out of control, the "big issue" coming out of the state's current situation is the role hotel quarantine has once again played, Prof Esterman said.

"We know how (this cluster) started, the real issue is, can we stop the same thing from happening again? And the answer is, probably not," he said.

"So then we come to the question of, well, if it's impossible to totally stop any leakage from the quarantine hotels, why on earth do we have them in the middle of big cities?

"Why don't we have them in remote locations like Christmas Island or the Northern Territory? I think that's going to be the big issue coming out of this - the very silly idea of having them in the middle of cities."

Speaking to Patricia Karvelas on the ABC's Afternoon Briefing yesterday, Australian Medical Association (AMA) vice president Dr Chris Moy said there has been "incredible tension" about bringing in people from overseas when that's where the "greatest risk" lies.

"South Australia has done its share but it has still been very difficult at the high standards. So this is a very difficult balancing act with such an infectious condition," he said.

What this will be, he added, is a "test" for the state.

"The AMA has stated it does have some concerns, because having a community which has essentially got no restrictions or minimal restrictions on movement leaves it extremely exposed," Dr Moy said.

"And then it relies on only two other levers, which are the contact tracing and the testing, and also the individual responsibility. It leaves us exposed, and this is going to be the test on whether we can get on top of it quickly in essentially a community that has been open with very little restrictions for a long period of time."


Originally published as 'Worst nightmare': Eerie truth about SA

There are now at least 20 cases linked to the Parafield family cluster. Picture: Emma Brasier
There are now at least 20 cases linked to the Parafield family cluster. Picture: Emma Brasier

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