Two further cases of local Covid transmission – a resident and a nurse at an aged care home – have been identified in Victoria in addition to the two infections officially recorded by the state on Sunday, as health officials continue to hunt for the source of a growing cluster of the highly infectious Delta variant.
The newly infected 79-year-old resident at the Arcare aged care home in Maidstone in Melbourne’s west lives in “close proximity” to the centre’s previous two cases.
In a statement, Arcare confirmed the resident was fully vaccinated with Pfizer and was asymptomatic, but would still be transferred to the hospital “for public health reasons”.
The other case was an agency registered nurse who “last worked at the residence yesterday”. They were asymptomatic and had received just the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the statement.
“All team members who worked at Arcare yesterday are required to get tested immediately and self-isolate for 14 days,” a spokesperson for Arcare said.
“Further testing will take place tomorrow, with the indication that it will occur every two days while we manage this outbreak.”
The two previously announced cases, which were recorded in the 24 hours to 8pm on Saturday, were known close contacts linked to existing outbreaks.
“One new case is another employee of the Port Melbourne finance company in their 50s who has been isolating for the entirety of their infectious period. The other new case is a teacher from a primary school link to the West Melbourne outbreak,” the acting premier, James Merlino, said.
The West Melbourne cluster is associated with the Delta Covid-19 variant – a highly infectious strain originating from the Indian subcontinent – and is genomically unique from the rest of Melbourne’s current clusters.
While the small number of official new cases was heralded as positive news, the deputy chief health officer, Prof Allen Cheng, conceded officials were still struggling to find the source of the Delta variant.
“The sequence data has been run against the national database and we have contacted all the other labs in the country to make sure all that sequence data is up-to-date. Today it could be rerun again,” he said.
But he said limitations on genomic testing meant the source case for this cluster may be impossible to determine.
“There is a small proportion of isolates that can’t be touched. We are keeping a very close eye on examining these cases more carefully. We are working with them to see if there is any further information that can be obtained from these specimens.”
On Saturday a senior public health official said her “strong hypothesis” was that the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus that caused a second outbreak in Melbourne was caused by a hotel quarantine leak.
Cheng said finding the source remained a key area of concern in Victoria.
“What we are somewhat concerned about is the upstream. So for these cases, we can’t find, who gave them the infection and the family that returned from Jervis Bay. We are concerned about who might have given them the infection and therefore could there be other infections related to that.”
Despite fear about the infectiousness of the strain, he said it was unlikely it could be circulating widely in Victoria without being detected.
“Given 5% of Victorians have been tested in the last seven days, if there was a big outbreak going on, I think we would expect to have picked it up but there is always that risk,” he said.
The Port Melbourne workplace Kappa-variant cluster had five cases added to its total on Sunday, but Cheng said this was due to known but previously unlinked cases being connected. The total for this cluster now sits at 30. The Whittlesea Kappa-variant cluster – the other main cluster in Melbourne – remains at 29 total cases.
Despite low case numbers, Merlino said it was too early to consider easing lockdown measures before next Friday.
“That will be absolutely based on public health advice, and that is the way we have approached this pandemic … As I said a moment ago, we do know that the Delta variants are 50% more infectious than what we were dealing with last year,” he said.
During Sunday’s press conference Merlino announced an expansion to the state’s support for businesses in lockdown, adding an additional $32.2m to help those in the tourism sector.
The new package will come in three parts: $16m will go to another round of 80,000 regional tourism vouchers to encourage tourism in the state; $11.8m will be used to increase the grants available to individual business in the tourism sector to $7,000; and $4.4m will be used to support Alpine regions who have now lost a substantial portion of their winter ski season to the lockdown.
“In regards to alpine resorts, as the acting premier indicated, they are uniquely effective because the earning period is much shorter than an accommodation or tourism business,” said the minister for tourism, Martin Pakula.
“The Queen’s birthday long weekend is one of their biggest weekends, so in recognition of the fact that that will be disrupted … there will be up to $15,000 for on-mountain employing businesses, up to $10,000 for on-mountain non-employing businesses and up to $5,000 for certain off-mountain businesses.”
Pakula said the tourism support package was necessary because the government anticipated Melbournians won’t be able to travel into regional Victoria for some time, even after the lockdown ends next Friday.