Coronavirus crisis: WA records no new cases in wake of NSW truckie scare, providing grand final boost

Josh Zimmerman, Peter Law & Ben O'SheaThe West Australian
VideoAFL Grand Final under COVID threat as two NSW truckies test positive after driving through WA

WA has recorded no new cases linked to a COVID positive NSW truck driver, providing a massive boost to hopes for a packed Optus Stadium for Saturday’s AFL grand final.

Premier Mark McGowan announced the “terrific news” this morning after it was yesterday revealed a truck driver who spent two days in WA had tested positive shortly after returning to NSW.

Twenty-two contacts have been identified for the driver – six of which are classified as close contacts and all will now complete 14 days of hotel quarantine.

One close contact has so far tested negative. The 16 casual contacts are being tested and will isolate until they return a negative result.

“We obviously have the grand final on Saturday which is a pretty big event,” Mr McGowan said. “I saw it on the front page of the paper – kids praying, hoping that the final goes ahead.”

The front page of Thursday’s The West Australian.
Camera IconThe front page of Thursday’s The West Australian.

The Premier said the advice from Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson was there nothing to stop the grand final from going ahead as planned and the government was “very confident” it would be played in front of a full house.

“The health advice this morning was ... there’s nothing to stop the game going ahead. There is no cases in WA, so we’re very confident and we’re putting in place all the measures for the people who were at those service stations to make sure they quarantine and get tested,” he said.

The truck driver that sparked the latest COVID scare returned a negative test result in NSW on September 13 before arriving in WA on September 16 and spending two days in the State.

On September 19, the truck driver was again tested in NSW with WA authorities alerted to his infection on Wednesday.

Five exposure sites have so far been listed on the WA Health website, all petrol stations and truck stops in Balladonia, Coolgardie, Southern Cross, Kewdale and Chidlow visited on September 16 and 17.

Of the six close contacts, three were located in the Goldfields, two in Perth and one in the Wheatbelt. Of the casual contacts, six are located in Perth, six in the Wheatbelt, three in the Goldfields and one in the South West.

Mr McGowan said the fact the 22 contacts were isolated within days of coming into contact with the truck driver gave him confidence the grand final could go-ahead even if one tests positive in the next day or two.

“You judge every situation on its merits, but you know some of the locations they were in — Balladonia, Southern Cross, Coolgardie and Norseman — ... if there’s a positive case out there they are in quarantine, they’re being managed,” he said.

“It gives us a lot of confidence that the game can go ahead on Saturday.”

In a further positive sign, Mr McGowan said it was a “good thing” that the COVID positive truckies’ test result on his return to NSW was “very strong”.

“It indicates that if he was infectious when he was in WA his infection levels were low. You get more infectious as time goes by, so that means when he was here his infection levels were lower and, as we know, he returned a negative test result prior to coming to WA,” the Premier said.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said he had confidence in the WA Government, police and health authorities to manage the latest COVID scare.

“I think their history speaks for itself. We work with the Government, we take their advice ... we leave it to the people that know what they’re doing,” he said.

”“We’re not counting anything until the final siren at the end of the game ... because that’s the approach we’ve taken, but I feel what we are looking forward to is going to be an incredible event — we have created the greatest grand final in history at the Premier’s instruction."

Mr McGowan said truck drivers were subjected to strict protocols, including a weekly COVID-19 testing regime.

Any driver that arrives at the WA border without proof of a negative PCR test in the previous three days must complete a rapid antigen test – but there are growing calls for every driver to complete an antigen test, which returns results with minutes.

Western Roads Federation chief executive Cam Dumesny said rapid antigen tests “certainly make sense”.

“It is not an intrusive test so there is merit in that – it just gives you that additional layer of confidence,” he said.

Head of epidemiological modelling at Monash University Professor James Trauer agreed there was an easy to address gap in the current system.

“Getting another quick (rapid antigen) test to see whether you’re infectious, even if it’s not quite as good as the gold-standard PCR test, is a pretty good way to make sure that people like truck drivers are not infectious coming into WA,” Professor Trauer told The West Live.

“It’s a pretty good way to just quickly work out whether you’re likely to be infectious with a pretty good level of confidence.”

The national trucking industry has also been lobbying for the establishment of 24/7 testing and vaccination centres at Port August in South Australian and the Barkly Highway Roadhouse in the Northern Territory – which are located on the two east-west roads connecting the country.

Mr Dumesny said PCR tests on truckies carried out in Sydney were often only returning results after drivers had already crossed into WA.

In the best case scenario, the results were already three days old by the time freight workers arrived at the WA border.

“If we could get testing done at Port Augusta or Katherine then we could have much more contemporary results back well before the drivers get to WA,” Mr Dumesny said.

He said both the SA and NT governments were supportive of the concept but that it would require Commonwealth Government funding.

Shire of Yilgarn shire president Wayne Della Bosca — which takes in Southern Cross — said he worried “we’re probably going to be the starting point for the next COVID infection”.

“I’ve spoken to Mark (McGowan) about this, and we believe testing at the border needs to be improved, and we need to have a guarantee that these guys coming in are definitely not COVID-affected,” he said.

After Victoria today recorded 766 new COVID-19 cases Mr McGowan urged all West Australians hoping to return home from the State to apply for a G2G pass immediately.

Authorities are currently assessing border settings with Victoria and it is likely to be upgraded to an “extreme risk” jurisdiction within days, ending travel on compassionate grounds.

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