Northern Territory (NT) authorities have said they will know if the source of the Katherine outbreak is linked to the growing second cluster there and the one in Robinson River after the results of genomic testing come back on Thursday.
This comes after the original outbreak was seeded by a 21-year-old woman from Cairns, who spent one night with a defence force contractor in Darwin before he travelled back to Katherine, infecting his housemates. The woman was found to have lied to authorities about a recent trip to Victoria, a known hotspot for the Delta variant of COVID-19, the Australian reported.
Authorities believe she is also likely to be the source of the second Katherine cluster, as well as the Robinson River outbreak, collectively known as “Katherine-Robinson River cluster 2”, which now stands at 19.
“We still don’t have an established link between cluster 1 and cluster 2 yet. This is the most likely explanation, but we will keep investigating the genome result due tomorrow, ” Chief Minister Michael Gunner said on Wednesday.
How Genome Testing Works
Genomic sequencing has played a major role in helping map the transmission of COVID-19.
According to Queensland Genomics, genomic sequencing takes a “genetic fingerprint” of an organism and creates a map of how its DNA and RNA are ordered.
Because COVID-19 is an RNA virus, scientists can look at the genetic sequence of different cases and detect tiny differences in each new infection. This enables the creation of a genetic family tree and shows which COVID-19 cases are closely linked.
The more fingerprints that are taken, the easier it is to identify whether a person contracted the virus from a known cluster or case.
New Cases in Katherine and Robinson River
As of Wednesday NT Health said there had been eight new cases in 24 hours, three from Katherine and five from Robinson River.
The three Katherine cases, two Aboriginal men in their thirties and a 21-year-old Aboriginal woman, are all household contacts of previously recorded cases. The five from Robinson River are also household contacts of previous cases and include a three-week-old Aboriginal girl.
They are all currently isolating in the Centre for National Resilience (CNR) at the Howard Springs quarantine facility.
Contract tracing is in progress and 234 close contacts have been identified, 107 of whom are in isolation and have been tested.
People who have been to Robinson River since Nov.11 and have since left the area and are unvaccinated, are required to immediately get tested and self-isolate until receiving a negative test result. Fully vaccinated people who have done the same do not need to isolate but must get tested within three days.
The same requirements apply to anyone who has visited the Municipality of Katherine, including Tindal, since Nov. 7 and has now left the area.