The majority of passengers on two domestic flights in the Australian state of Queensland will no longer need to spend Christmas isolating after being reduced to casual contact status on Wednesday, after a man onboard later tested positive to COVID-19.
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath revealed that after lengthy discussions overnight, including consultations with chief health officers from other states, Queensland Chief Health Officer John Gerrard decided that only those passengers sitting near the infected man will be deemed close contacts.
This comes after Queensland reopened its borders to interstate hotspots on Monday, and a Defence Force employee flew from Newcastle to Brisbane and then on to Townsville that day, unaware he was a close contact of a positive case until he was advised after arriving in Townsville, ABC reported.
The man got tested immediately and went into quarantine, later returning a positive result, and until the recent change of decision all passengers on Virgin flights VA1105 and VA375 with him would have been considered close contacts and therefore required to isolate for 14 days, regardless of whether they tested negative.
Before news of the update, Innes Wilcox, Chief Executive of Australian Industry Group, had said forcing all the passengers to quarantine would deter travel, and said the Queensland government was overreacting, reported ABC.
“Why Queensland hasn’t done what other states have done and said just the people sitting around this person should be considered close contacts rather than the whole plane is just unbelievable,” he said.
“What this will do is deter people from travelling to Queensland as there is no certainty.”
D’Ath said that it was the first domestic flight into Queensland with a potential case of Omicron on board, so the public health unit acted cautiously, considering whether to take a different approach with Omicron, or apply the normal rules, whereby only those sitting immediately around the infected person are deemed close contacts.
“I’ve been advised this morning that the Chief Health Officer and the deputies have viewed that we can apply the normal rules in relation to these flights, and we don’t need to wait till we get the findings of whether it’s Omicron, because if it is, we will still apply these rules,” she said.
Most passengers on both flights will now get to spend Christmas with their loved ones.