The teenager was potentially exposed to the virus at several high-risk sites listed by the NSW government including the Avalon RSL, the Avalon Bowling Club and a fish and chip shop.
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said the teenager, who lives in the Moonee Valley local government area in the city’s north west, was tested on Sunday and had been quarantining at home with her family since returning to Melbourne.
The girl’s mother tested negative to the virus but two close contacts of the family were still awaiting tests results on Tuesday evening.
Mr Foley said all close contacts have been interviewed and the Department of Health was following up any secondary close contacts with rapid-response testing.
“Given the family were isolated at home, at this point, there are no known exposure sites in Victoria,” he said.
University of South Australia epidemiologist Adrian Esterman said it was worrying that more than 24 hours after conducting contact tracing interviews, health officials were unable to determine with certainty if there were any potential exposure sites in Victoria linked with the teenager.
“Clearly the delay is a concern,” Professor Esterman said. “If the family were in genuine quarantine the entire time then I can’t see any risk. But, obviously, they really need to confirm that they were in quarantine the whole time quickly. Why it would take this long, I don’t know.”
He said Victoria’s health department should now be on par with those in South Australia and NSW which update exposure sites within hours of confirmed cases.
Asked about the delays in determining if there had been exposure sites on Tuesday morning, Chief Testing Commander Jeroen Weimar defended the government’s response and said it was unlikely there had been a “significant window of risk”.
He said the detailed interviews on their movements began immediately after their test results came back on Monday afternoon.
“For the family that’s at the centre of this, this is a distressing and complex thing for them to live with, to deal with,” he said.
“We are undertaking all the discussions. They started yesterday afternoon. We are not going to go and announce a whole series of possible exposure sites if we don’t know people were infectious at that time.”
Deakin University chair of epidemiology Catherine Bennett said public health officials should consider the entire time the teenager has been in Victoria as a potential “infectious period”.
While Professor Bennett also questioned the delays, she noted that the long car trip from Sydney posed more difficulties for contact tracers to ascertain whether all the movements had been explained.
“Presumably they are interviewing the family or the parents too so that’s a good thing because it means they are cross-checking information,” she said. “But time is everything in these situations.”
Mr Foley also defended the government’s decision to classify the case as an “interstate” case, meaning Victoria maintained its run of zero-case days. He said the decision was made by Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and was comparable to the categorisation of COVID-positive people in hotel quarantine as “overseas” cases.
Asked by a reporter if the government was finding “new and creative ways” to keep Victoria’s caseload at zero, Mr Foley responded: “Your new and creative is our open and transparent.”
As Victoria has tightened its borders with NSW, 17 people, including a family of five, have been transferred to hotel quarantine after they arrived off flights from Sydney.
“My message to anyone trying to enter Victoria from NSW is don’t,” Mr Foley said. “You won’t get in, and if you do, you’ll be spending your time at Christmas and New Year in hotel quarantine.”
There are currently 300 people in Victoria who had visited exposure locations in NSW. Mr Weimar said all were isolating and co-operating with public health officials.
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Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.
Paul is a Victorian political reporter for The Age.