World news – New hotspot definition aims to carve a path for border opening

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The expert medical panel advising the national cabinet on the pandemic has drawn up a new definition of a COVID-free zone amid signs of hope in the tense border stand-off between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders.

A draft statement sent to premiers and chief ministers on Wednesday by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) proposed three types of geographical areas to guide decisions about when to open and close borders from areas with COVID-19 cases.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be looking for a clear definition of what a hotspot is when the national cabinet meets on Friday.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

« A COVID-free zone is an area that has no locally acquired cases that pose a risk to the community in the previous 28 days, » the statement, seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, said.

A COVID-community transmission zone – akin to a hotspot- would be defined as an area where the virus was spreading, cases were locally acquired from an unknown source and « a proportion » of locally acquired cases had no known source in the previous 28 days.

« The risk of exportation of disease by individuals in this zone who travel to other areas is high, » the draft statement said.

Comparisons have been drawn between this definition, and the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s insistence that NSW mark 28 days without community transmission before she will open the border to her southern neighbour.

On Wednesday NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian had welcomed Queensland’s consideration of changing its threshold for opening borders from 28 days with no community transmission to 14, saying the move would swap an « impossible benchmark » for a « highly unlikely » one.

« We have cases which are concerning [and] we have unknown cases in the past that we’re trying to chase as well. But if you look at the overall picture and what we’re up to, there wouldn’t be a reason why those borders should still be in place. »

The draft statement defined a third category – COVID-controlled zone – as an area with locally acquired cases in the previous 28 days, but where each had a known source and authorities had been able to identify the source within 48 hours of the case being detected.

The nuanced definitions appear to have been drafted in an effort to resolve the fraught debate over hotspot definitions and border restrictions, which is set to dominate this Friday’s national cabinet meeting.

Mr Morrison announced on September 4 the cabinet was working towards « a sustainable set of arrangements where Australians could move around », with an agreed hotspot model to be locked in « by Christmas » to guide border decisions.

The Prime Minister said he wanted the Commonwealth definition of a hotspot – more than 30 locally acquired cases over three consecutive days in metropolitan areas, a figure that would mean Queensland’s border would open to NSW – to be « the starting point » of negotiations.

The AHPPC statement did not nominate a specific number of cases with no known source that would constitute a COVID transmission zone, with these hotspots to be declared by the AHPPC – not by states and territories.

But the declaration « does not trigger or preclude specific actions from states or territories to take, » the statement said.

« Public Health measures will be determined by the jurisdiction experiencing community transmission. It is a recognition that the outbreak is not under control and requires strong public health measures for containment, » it read.

The ACT, which has not recorded a new case of COVID-19 for almost 10 weeks but is treated as a hotspot by the Queensland government, would meet the proposed definition of a « COVID-free zone ».

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said the AHPPC statement would be considered by national cabinet, « so it’s not quite appropriate for me to be able to give commentary on it. »

« With specific regard to the COVID-free zones, that is no different of course to the previous stated aim of aggressive suppression which is to have no cases of unlinked community transmission, » Dr Coatsworth said on Wednesday.

« That particular aim has been the basis of the aggressive suppression strategy for quite some time. »

On Wednesday NSW reported 10 new COVID-19 cases, including six returned travellers and four locally acquired – all linked to known cases or clusters.

There were 19,566 tests carried out in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday, a significant improvement on the 8835 tests recorded the previous day.

NSW has recorded seven days in a row of five or fewer new locally acquired cases, and the only mystery case reported on Tuesday was a false positive.

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SOURCE: https://www.w24news.com

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