Covid Victoria: Two cases reclassified to false positives

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Two “fleeting” transmission cases partially used to justify lockdown have been declared false positive, raising questions about whether the strain is moving as fast as first ­predicted.

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Two “fleeting” transmission cases partially used to justify Victoria’s extended lockdown were false positives with the state government now under increasing pressure to publicly release its health advice.

An expert panel on Thursday ruled the cases – a woman who was said to have caught the virus at a display home in Mickleham and a man allegedly infected while dining outdoors at the Brighton Beach Hotel – were “false positives”.

It came just days after health officials warned those infections showed the danger posed by the Indian super-strain circulating across Melbourne.

“What we are seeing now clearly is people who are brushing past each other in a small shop, they are going to a display home, they are looking at phones in a Telstra shop – they don’t know each other’s names and that is very different from where we have been,” Covid-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said on Tuesday.

But the Department of Health said on Thursday those two instances were “no longer considered confirmed cases”.

“Following analysis by an expert review panel, and ­retesting through the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, two cases linked to this outbreak have been ­declared false positives,” a department spokesman said.

Both the display home and Brighton Beach Hotel will remain exposure sites because they are linked to other cases, but any exposure sites linked to the two false cases, including all listed in Anglesea, will be “stood down”.

Former premier Jeff Kennett said the false positives had needlessly alarmed communities.

“Another Fawlty Towers example of failure,” he said. “While thousands of employees stood down. Tragic.”

Victoria recorded just three new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, with each identified as a primary close contact, ­meaning all had been in isolation during their infectious period.

The government repeatedly said last week its decision to plunge the state into another lockdown was based on public health advice, but officials have come under fire for scaremongering about the risks of Covid-19 variants.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien on Thursday called for the government to ­urgently release that health ­advice so Victorians could see the evidence for themselves.

“It’s the least we’re entitled to,” he said.

“We’re seeing our lives put on hold. We’re seeing our lives locked down and the government will not even release the public health advice.”

Mr O’Brien backed comments from leading epidemiologists who have raised concerns over “apocalyptic” language used by the government, which he claimed had scared Victorians.

“That’s the last thing we need at the moment. We need Victorians to be calm. We don’t need government officials trying to amp up their language and scare people,” he said.

The false positives have ­renewed questions about whether the B1617.1 or “Kappa” strain at the centre of Melbourne’s current outbreak is moving as fast as first ­predicted by chief health ­officer Professor Brett Sutton.

Referring to it as an “absolute beast”, Prof Sutton – who was absent from Thursday’s press conference – claimed it was in the “measles category of infectiousness”.

But measles, thought to boast a reproduction number of between 12 and 18, is significantly more infectious.

Deputy chief health officer Professor Allen Cheng, who moved to clarify Prof Sutton’s comments, said due to strict limits of movement, the current virus had been predicted as having an effective reproduction number of about 0.069 by national modelling experts.

“I think it’s not really controversial to say that most of these variants have been shown to be more infectious (than the virus version which hit Melbourne in 2020),” Prof Cheng said.

But La Trobe University ­associate professor in epidemiology Prof Hassan Vally said it was important to put any fear and anxiety into perspective.

“I think we have to be careful and measured with our use of language when it comes to the situation in Victoria,” he said.

“It’s certainly true that we are facing a different variant in this cluster that has been reported to be more infectious than other strains.

“However, we are still facing the same virus and it still behaves in a similar way in all other respects to the original strain that emerged in 2020.”

Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosecurity program at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said little was known about the Kappa variant but it was “definitely something to be worried about”.

“We do not have a precise quantisation of transmissibility for Kappa, as it is far less well studied than Delta (the other main Indian variant), but it has mutations that may make it more transmissible, and the communications from the Victorian chief health officer suggest their data are very worrying,” she said.

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