The “fleeting” manner in which Covid-19 is reported to be spreading in Australia has been described as “sobering” by US onlookers.
Four new coronavirus cases announced on Monday take the total number of infections in the NSW cluster to 11.
It is a small number in the big picture — especially compared to what other countries are experiencing — but experts say the way the virus is being passed from one person to the next is cause for concern.
In two of Sydney’s cases, the moment of transmission was caught on CCTV. In the first instance, a man in his 50s caught the virus by merely passing through the airspace of an infected limousine driver at Myer at Bondi Junction.
In the second instance, a woman in her 70s was sitting outside at Belle Cafe in Vaucluse when the same driver — the cluster’s primary case — was inside the cafe.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said it would appear that the Myer transmission occurred despite the two cases being “somewhere in the range of between 10 and possibly 50-60 centimetres away in a passing situation”.
“Each of them had stood not far away from each other for a very short period of time and then it would appear that one of them possibly moved through the airspace that the other one had occupied,” Mr Hazzard said.
World-renowned epidemiologist, Harvard-based Eric Feigl-Ding, shared the story with his 521,000 followers on Twitter on Monday, writing: “‘No more than mere seconds’ of exposure in 10-60 centimetres where one man triggers several #DeltaVariant infections with brief ‘fleeting’ contact.
“C’mon, must be a one time random event. Right? Wrong! It is the second fleeting contact transmission connected to the first case. A woman in her 70s was sitting outside a cafe that the initial case had visited and genomic sequencing of her virus is an exact match.”
Miami-based news anchor Robin Simmons shared the story on social media too, writing: “This story on the #Deltastrain of #COVID-19 in Australia is sobering. One man is responsible for transmitting the disease to at least 6 people … in one case just brushing past a man at a mall.”
Dr Feigl-Ding wrote that it is “safe to say” the Delta variant of Covid-19, which originated in India, is now “the greatest threat of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021” and is “by far the fastest variant known to date”.
The NSW Premier says that while Monday’s case numbers weren’t a “bad outcome”, there was still a level of concern about the way this virus has spread “fleetingly” between some cases.
“What we want to avoid at this stage is a superspreader event. With this current outbreak, we have not experienced a superspreader event. That is what we want to prevent.”
Delta spreading around the world
Globally, the Delta variant is causing chaos. Russia’s capital Moscow on Monday reported a pandemic high for new coronavirus cases for the second straight day, as the city’s hospitals became flooded with new patients who were infected with the Delta variant.
The city registered 9120 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours, according to government figures, a second consecutive high topping the previous day’s total of 9056 cases.
Those figures have ballooned from just 3000 daily two weeks ago, with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin saying the highly infectious Delta variant first identified in India represented nearly 90 per cent of new cases.
Across the country, officials recorded 17,906 cases and 466 deaths over 24 hours — 76 of them in Moscow — the worst nationwide figures since March 13.
In Brazil, meanwhile, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga tweeted: “500,000 lives lost due to the pandemic that affects our Brazil and the world.”
He did not give the death toll from the past 24 hours, but as of Friday, the ministry had recorded 498,499 deaths, with a daily average of more than 2000 over the last seven days.
The Delta variant is also casting a shadow over the Tokyo Olympics which will start in just over a month.
The Japanese capital’s governor said on Saturday the city would cancel all public viewing events.
Rather than set up six planned viewing sites, “we will make greater use of the web to create exciting atmospheres for the Games,” Yuriko Koike said.
The faster-spreading Delta variant is a top concern in many countries, including in China.
Fears over the rapid spread of the variant prompted the airport in the southern Chinese city Shenzhen to cancel hundreds of flights and tighten entry controls on Saturday, after a single restaurant employee tested positive.
Anyone entering the facility must show a negative virus test from the last 48 hours, Shenzhen Airport Group said in a statement on its official WeChat social media account.
And in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni announced new restrictions, including the suspension of inland travel and an extended overnight curfew, as “the hospitals are full”.
— with AFP