All states and territories are conducting “significant” contact tracing exercises after thousands passed through a key COVID-19 exposure site before spreading across the country.
Brunetti Cafe in Melbourne Airport’s Terminal 4 was listed as an area of concern, after a cafe worker tested positive to the highly-contagious UK COVID-19 variant on Thursday, two days after working there.
It was confirmed on Saturday 11 of the 12 staff members exposed to the site had tested negative.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly welcomed the “very good news” on Saturday, but warned travellers across the airport often went to the terminal to visit the cafe.
“Literally thousands of people would have gone through that place,” he said.
The outbreak plunged Melbourne into a five-day lockdown on Saturday, but Professor Kelly said there had been “no discussions” over similar measures elsewhere with no positive cases uncovered interstate.
But he admitted “concern” over the situation, revealing all states and territories were now attempting to find people who travelled from Terminal 4.
“(They) are now undertaking quite significant contact tracing exercises in the same way as is happening in Victoria: finding people, sending out messages, asking them to get tested, asking them to isolate, and in some cases going into quarantine,” he said.
“That is what is happening right around the country.”
The Commonwealth declared Victoria a hotspot on Friday, allowing the state to request extra support from federal authorities.
The listing came despite Victoria not reaching the previous threshold of 30 cases in three days.
Professor Kelly said the definition had been updated to consider the highly-contagious nature of the UK variant.
“We need to put into context what else is happening. The other components that came into my mind were the numbers and the event that had started it, which essentially was a super-spreading event,” he said.
He also confirmed he held talks last week over acquiring Australia the capacity to manufacture mRNA vaccines, which he dubbed the “future of vaccines”.
Australia was on track to administer its first batches of mRNA jabs in late February, sourcing the Pfizer vaccine from Europe.
The Pfizer jab was the first mRNA vaccine approved for use in humans.
Around 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were set to be manufactured in Melbourne, but Australia lacked the capacity to produce mRNA vaccines.
“I cannot go into the detail (about the talks) but certainly, it will be a very exciting development for Australia to have that brand new technology,” Professor Kelly said.
“In many ways, I can see this being the future of vaccines.”
But he warned there was a long process to undergo before Australia could rely on its own supply of mRNA vaccines.
“(It) is brand new technology, it is not simple technology. It needs to be done in the best way with the best quality, safety and making sure whatever is made in that way is effective,” he said.