All passengers on board a Qantas flight from Darwin to Sydney that carried a Qantas crew member who later tested positive for coronavirus have been deemed close contacts and are now being asked to self isolate for 14 days and get tested.
- The Qantas crew member was a passenger on Qantas flight QF841 from Darwin to Sydney last Friday
- All passengers on the flight are being asked to self isolate and get tested for coronavirus
- Health authorities have previously said the man was unlikely to have been infectious before flying to Sydney
The announcement comes as South Australian health authorities said a man in his twenties who flew on the Darwin to Sydney flight has tested positive for coronavirus in the state.
Health authorities said he was not seated near the Qantas employee who tested positive.
Following the Darwin to Sydney flight the man in his twenties flew from Sydney to Wodonga and travelled to the town of Maitland on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, crossing the border on Monday, December 21.
SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said that the man returned a “weak positive test” and that further blood tests show it is likely to be an old infection.
She said the man and five of his close contacts are currently in quarantine as a precaution.
“He arrived in South Australia by road and he travelled from New South Wales and came into [SA] in the early hours of Monday,” Professor Spurrier said.
Professor Spurrier said she understood the man had also spent time travelling through rural Victoria before entering South Australia.
Qantas yesterday confirmed the staff member who tested positive had worked on a repatriation flight from Paris that arrived in Darwin last week before he boarded Darwin to Sydney flight QF841 as a passenger last Friday, December 18.
Dr Chant said contact tracing was now underway.
“All the people who were on the flight from Darwin to Sydney are now considered close contacts and will be immediately tested and asked to self-isolate for 14 days,” she said.
One passenger on the flight, who sat in front of Qantas staff, has told the ABC that the flight was full and that precautions felt relaxed during the flight.
“There was no safe spacing on the plane. The plane was absolutely full,” said Darwin resident Adelaide Wood, who is now self-isolating in Tasmania.
“Other than receiving a little package when you board that has got a face mask, there weren’t any other obvious precautions. The flight had a normal meal service. I had my mask on for the entire flight but some people didn’t at all.”
Ms Wood’s description of the flight comes despite Dr Chant yesterday saying the flight likely had a limited number of people on board.
“There were a number of precautions in place. But there will be a limited number of people on the flight,” Dr Chant said yesterday.
Qantas declined to respond directly to questions about how many passengers were on the flight.
Ms Wood, who believes it is likely she sat in the row directly in front of the infected Qantas crew member, said she is baffled at how overseas Qantas aircrew had been permitted to board a domestic flight so soon after their international flights had landed.
“The [Qantas staff] behind me were the ones who had been on the repatriation flight … they were talking about the trip to Paris and what hotels they had been in,” she said.
“They were essentially a crew in uniform sitting in the back nine seats of the place. I just think none of us knew at the time that they had only just come from Paris.
“I’m absolutely outraged. It’s unbelievable and Qantas have got a lot to answer to, and I think the NT Government need to think very straightforwardly with Territorians about how people are coming into the NT.
“It’s a big mess up on their behalf and it’s effected everybody on their flight.”
When overseas air crew arrive in the Northern Territory, they are not required to enter supervised quarantine and are permitted self-isolate in a “a residence or a room, apartment or unit in commercial visitor accommodation”, according to the Chief Health Officer’s official directions.
Aircrew are then permitted to board domestic flights without self-isolating for 14 days.
Since the current NSW outbreak, which was linked to weaknesses in quarantine protocols for international aircrews, NSW authorities have strengthened these protocols to prevent aircrew from travelling on commercial domestic flights after operating international repatriation flights.
NSW and Victoria also announced international aircrews arriving in the respective states would be required to stay in supervised hotel quarantine.
The Northern Territory has not indicated it would strengthen rules around either quarantine protocols for international aircrew or restrictions for aircrew boarding domestic flights out of the jurisdiction.
Qantas ordeal a ‘breakdown in the system’
Ms Wood said when she first read reports about the positive case she contacted health authorities to ask for a test but was denied.
“I did phone up [yesterday] to get a test and talked about the flight, but they weren’t aware of it and I was told to wait,” she said.
Ms Wood then received a message at 11:00pm last night from NSW health authorities informing her she was a close contact and that she would be required to self-isolate and get tested.
She described the lack of communication between health authorities and the belated direction to get tested as a “breakdown in the system”.
“Even through all the COVID stuff we’ve been through we are not co-ordinating our approach,” she said.
“The lack of coordination about what’s going on is staggering. I’ve been on the phone for four hours this morning just to get a test.”
Yesterday, Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles said health authorities did not believe the crew member was infectious during his stay in Darwin before flying to Sydney.
“[The crew member] did spend some time in Darwin, but it was under strict CHO directions,” Ms Fyles said at a press conference yesterday.
She said was advised the man exited the Qantas repatriation flight through the RAAF side of Darwin Airport before he left in a private vehicle, self-isolated at a hotel and then returned to Darwin Airport in a private vehicle before boarding the Sydney flight.
Ms Fyles did not specify where the man stayed in Darwin.
Yesterday Qantas said the man developed mild symptoms while self-isolating at home on Sunday, December 20, and subsequently returned a positive coronavirus test.
The airline said he was now currently in government-managed quarantine accommodation.
This morning, the NT Government announced that a 31-year-old man who arrived on the Paris repatriation flight had tested positive for coronavirus in the past 24 hours.
It follows an announcement on December 19 that a 56-year-old woman who was also on the same Paris flight had tested positive in the Howard Springs quarantine facility.