Medical workers evacuate a resident from the Epping Gardens aged care facility in Melbourne – WILLIAM WEST/AFP
Two Australian women with Covid-19 who returned to Brisbane from Melbourne via Sydney and avoided quarantine by concealing their point of origin had attended an illegal party in Victoria, it was revealed Thursday.
They arrived in Queensland on 21 July, eight days before that state’s government banned arrivals from Greater Sydney.
The news emerged as Victoria reported two grim records, with 13 Covid-19 deaths and 723 new cases in 24 hours.
The 723 Victorian cases on their own broke the previous record for the entire country, and came alongside 19 new cases in New South Wales, where three outbreaks have been identified in Sydney.
The women, aged 19 and 21, who attended work and a number of other sites after returning to Queensland but before testing positive, were at a gathering of at least 20 people in Melbourne which was shut down by police.
Melbourne and neighbouring Mitchell Shire have been under a lockdown since June in response to Victoria’s surge in Covid-19 cases.
People maintain social distance as they queue to be tested for the coronavirus disease at a pop-up testing centre in Sydney – LOREN ELLIOTT/REUTERS
The women, Olivia Muranga and Diana Lasu, are being treated at the Princess Alexandra Hospital on Brisbane’s southside and on Thursday were charged with deliberately giving authorities false documents in order to cross the border and fraud offences. One of them, police did not specify which, is cooperating with police and health authorities while the other is reportedly refusing.
They could face up to five years in prison and fines of A$13,345 (£7,322).
A third woman who attended the same party before returning to Queensland has been fined more than A$4,000 (£2,195). She has tested negative to Covid-19.
While to date just one case of Covid-19, a 22-year-old sister of one of the women, has been linked to their quarantine breach, the details of the cases have sparked a surge in the number of Brisbane residents getting tested for the coronavirus.
Hundreds of people from the families of around 700 students at Parkland Christian College, where one of the women works as a cleaner, lined up for testing on Thursday.
Queensland’s deputy commissioner of police, Steve Gollschewski, said police were confident they had identified everyone who attended the Melbourne gathering.
“Our focus now is working with those young women to identify everywhere that they have been since they have come back into Queensland,” he said.
An employee wears a protective face mask while ringing up a customer at a specialty grocery store in Sydney – Loren Elliott/Reuters
“We will continue to use the powers we have at our disposal, including considering further offences by anyone that doesn’t co-operate with the investigation to try and get that information out so that we can absolutely focus on identifying where any risk may be in our community and take the appropriate action.”
Australia’s Covid-19 death toll is now 189, with 105 of those deaths occurring in Victoria.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who appeared dejected at Thursday’s media conference, said workplace transmission of the virus had undermined efforts to flatten the curve with a six-week lockdown.
Mr Andrews did not blame any specific industries, saying that aside from residential aged care, where the private sector has been hit hard by the crisis, he did not have direct figures in other sectors.
“If people continue to go to work when they’ve got symptoms [or] when they are door-knocked by ADF and public health authorised officers and they’ve got the virus and they’re not at home because they’re at work, that’s just going to see these numbers continue to grow and restrictions will have to stay on,” he said.
Experts told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the massive spike in cases on Thursday was driven by a number of factors, chiefly the sheer unpredictability of the coronavirus.