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Is an International Flight Attendant Responsible for a New COVID-19 Outbreak in Sydney

Is an International Flight Attendant Responsible for a New COVID-19 Outbreak in Sydney

A bus driver who exclusively drives aircrew between Sydney International Airport (SYD) and various hotels across the city was one of just three new COVID-19 cases identified by New South Wales health officials on Wednesday. The case prompted an immediate investigation with family members and colleagues of the driver taken in for testing.

Health officials couldn’t immediately say how the man became infected, although he drives for a bus company that focuses solely on transporting international and domestic aircrew to an from the airport.

Despite initially displaying symptoms on Saturday, the man didn’t get a test until Tuesday and the result only came back on Wednesday. The driver claims to have been wearing a face mask when in the presence of international aircrew.

Urgent genome sequencing was underway on Thursday to confirm when the man became infected and whether the transmission occurred as a result of contact with aircrew – which may be possible by identifying a strain of the novel Coronavirus which is not routinely found in Australia.

“We do keep an open mind, while we have a plausible hypothesis that this transmission may have originated from contact with international flight crew,” commented the state’s chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant.

Despite imposing some of the toughest quarantine restrictions in the world in an effort to prevent the possible importation of COVID-19, the Australian government does not routinely require arriving aircrew or passengers to undergo testing.

International flight attendants and pilots are required to isolate in designated hotels during their stay in Australia but they still come into contact with various airport workers and hotel staff.

Quarantining flight attendants were recently linked to a hotel cluster in Darling Harbour after a cleaner tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr Chant said the New South Wales government had held talks with several international airlines over measures they had implemented over aircrew testing and quarantine. She noted that the NSW government was considering ways to strengthen current protection methods.

Three household contacts of the bus driver have been identified and have already tested negative for COVID-19. They will be required to self-isolate and continue monitoring for symptoms.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommends that flight attendants and pilots are not subjected to routine COVID-19 testing, while the International Air Transport Association (IATA) claims routine testing of aircrew would cost airlines US$2,600 per flight.

Some countries and territories have ignored those recommendations and demand a combination or pre-departure and post-arrival testing for aircrew. Infected aircrew are routinely identified and quarantined.

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