A member of cabin crew was likely infected with COVID-19 by another guest in a different room after being forced into 14-day hotel quarantine. The crew member was only told she was infected with the Alpha variant, which was first described in Britain, after being released from quarantine and mixing in the community.
The female flight attendant who is aged in her 30’s had been on an Emirates flight from Dubai to Brisbane, Australia on June 5 when she was identified as a close contact of a passenger onboard the flight who tested positive for the highly infectious Delta variant (also known as the Indian variant).
The crew member had travelled from Portugal via Dubai and is due to work in Australia with an unnamed airline.
Health officials placed the crew member into hotel quarantine in Brisbane but allowed her to leave on Saturday morning after the mandatory 14-day isolation period had ended and because she was not displaying any symptoms.
As part of routine surveillance carried out on aircrew members, the flight attendant was, however, tested as she left the quarantine hotel. The positive test result came back the same day but only after the crew member had mingled in the community including in a busy shopping mall and a restaurant.
At least 50 close contacts have already been identified – they will all be required to isolate for 14-days.
At first, it was feared the crew member may have been infected with the Delta variant after coming into contact with a case on her flight but genome sequencing has revealed she was infected with the Alpha variant.
“Genome sequencing has also helped reveal the transmission is likely to have occurred in hotel quarantine,” Queensland Health said in a press release. “The genome sequence is identical to a cabin crew member who underwent quarantine at the same hotel.”
It’s believed the crew member was infected through fomite transmission although investigators are still determining the exact mode of infection.
Brisbane had been put on high alert over fears that the Delta variant could have escaped into the community but on Monday, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young downplayed the risk.
“We have to take all variants seriously but given this one is Alpha, it reduces the risk to the community as opposed to the more contagious Delta strain we had initially suspected that is now circulating through parts of Sydney,” Dr Young commented.
There have been several high-profile cross contamination events in Australia’s hotel quarantine system over the past few months and the federal government is under increasing pressure to provide funding for the creation of dedicated quarantine facilities that would reduce the risk of infection amongst guests and staff.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.