A man who tested positive to COVID-19 after unwittingly entering the green zone at Brisbane International Airport is posing “less and less of a risk” to the community, authorities say.
Two passengers from Papua New Guinea (PNG) travelling on a red flight, who had initially both tested negative, were accidentally allowed to wander into the green zone at the airport for around two hours from 9.30am on Thursday.
One man was later revealed to be positive to COVID-19, sparking fears he could have exposed hundreds of passengers to the virus, however Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young today said authorities the risk of an outbreak was “very low”.
Risk of transmission is highest in the 48 hours before someone develops symptoms, she said, and serology results indicated the man was at the end of his illness.
CCTV has revealed other people in the airport at the time were all wearing masks and social distancing.
Authorities do not have genome sequencing for the positive case yet, but the amount of virus was “so low”, she said, that they may not get it.
She said there were no COVID-19 “variants of concern” in PNG at the time.
“I can never, ever be 100 per cent confident that even when people have followed all processes that there isn’t some remaining risk. But the remaining risk is very low.”
Breach sparks trans-Tasman alert
Health authorities issued an alert this morning because three flights departed for New Zealand during the two-hour period that the men were in the green zone.
The pair were effectively allowed to mingle with the almost 400 passengers who were departing across the three flights.
It is understood they dined at Hudson’s Cafe at the international terminal for 90 minutes before visiting the bathrooms and a retail outlet.
The pair had initially returned a negative result in PNG before returning to Australia.
They were tested again in Brisbane and one of the passengers returned a negative result, but the other test was equivocal, meaning it did not indicate either a positive or negative test.
More samples sent to Queensland Health’s Forensic and Scientific Services laboratory have since confirmed that one of the two men is COVID-positive.
Serology testing has revealed the man is likely at the end of his illness.
Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young earlier declared the international terminal a venue of concern and staff who came into contact with the pair have been placed into quarantine.
“Anyone who was in the terminal between 9.45am and midday on Thursday, 29 April 2021, should monitor their symptoms and get tested immediately if they feel unwell,” she said.
“They were in the wrong zone through no fault of their own and we appreciate their patience and cooperation while we rule them out as cases.
“We’re also grateful for the prompt action by Brisbane airport staff once the mistake was identified.”
She said she believed the risk to Queenslanders was low but the incident highlighted the importance of masks and social distancing at airports.
CCTV shows the pair had minimal interaction with other people and wore masks. The table was cleaned once they left the cafe.
The three flights affected are Air New Zealand NZ202 from Brisbane to Christchurch, Air New Zealand NZ146 from Brisbane to Auckland, and Qantas QF135 from Brisbane to Christchurch.
Queensland Health advised the NZ Ministry of Health, which is taking its own protection measures.
Breach due to ‘human error’
Brisbane Airport Corporation confirmed there was a breach of the green zone of the airport yesterday.
“The breach is due to human error, and BAC is currently working with all relevant authorities including Queensland Health to investigate the circumstances of the breach,” a spokesperson said.
“At approximately 9:30am, two transit passengers arrived on a ‘red’ flight from Port Moresby and proceeded through screening to transit as per normal process”.
BAC said an initial review of CCTV indicates that at approximately 9.55am, these passengers were incorrectly allowed into the ‘green zone’.
BAC said the passengers were seated at a retail outlet within the green zone until approximately 11.20am.
The passengers then used the bathroom and attended another retailer before they were located by BAC staff and returned to the ‘red zone’.
The corporation confirmed the passengers were in the green zone for just under two hours.
“Thorough cleaning of all areas mentioned above has since been conducted, and we can confirm all workers and passengers within the green area were wearing PPE,” BAC said.
“Three ‘green’ flights departed within this two-hour period to New Zealand, with approximately 390 passengers on these services.
“At this stage, it is believed only a handful of passengers were in the vicinity of the two ‘red’ passengers at any time.
“BAC is conducting a thorough investigation and unreservedly apologises for this human error.
“Queensland Health is leading the health response to this incident and working with the New Zealand Ministry of Health”.