Coronavirus detected in Victorian sewage as state records 22 days with no new cases

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<span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Victoria has only one active Covid-19 case but authorities are concerned about traces of the virus unexpectedly found at a Melbourne wastewater facility.

Victoria has gone 22 days with no new coronavirus cases while on Saturday New South Wales recorded 10 new cases in hotel quarantine. Queensland announced two new coronavirus cases and Western Australia one – all of which were in hotel quarantine.

In Victoria, one patient was cleared in the past 24 hours, leaving just one active case, that of an immunosuppressed person the state’s health minister, Martin Foley, said on Saturday was making a “slow and steady” recovery.

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A weak-positive case that was under review, that of an elderly woman, had been ruled negative.

Authorities have issued a plea for residents and visitors to Altona in Melbourne’s south-west from last Monday to Wednesday to get tested if they have even mild symptoms after virus traces were detected in a wastewater sample collected from the Altona sewage catchment on Wednesday. The result was unexpected because it had been about eight weeks since someone in the area tested positive.

Suburbs in the catchment included Altona, Altona Meadows, Laverton, Point Cook and Sanctuary Lakes.

“It could mean there is somebody in the community that we have missed,” Foley said.

He said the detection could have come from someone travelling through the suburbs or virus shedding from an old case.

NSW has reached two weeks – one complete infection cycle – without a single locally transmitted coronavirus case.

Ten cases of the virus were diagnosed in hotel quarantine in the 24 hours to 8pm on Friday, from more than 16,000 tests. NSW Health is still treating 70 cases compared with Victoria’s single active case.

“While there have been no new locally acquired cases in NSW for the past 14 days, we continue to encourage people to get tested, even if they display only the mildest of symptoms such as a runny nose, scratchy throat, cough or fever,” NSW Health’s Dr Jan Fizzell said on Saturday.

The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, reported two new confirmed cases in the state, both acquired overseas and detected in hotel quarantine.

Western Australian health authorities said the state’s new case brought its total to 797. The confirmed case was a woman in her 30s who returned to Perth from overseas and was in hotel quarantine.

Also on Saturday, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, welcomed a joint statement from Asia-Pacific leaders calling for free and predictable trade for economic recovery out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Leaders of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) group, including the US president, Donald Trump, and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, agreed they would not resort to protectionist policies.

The joint communique, after a virtual summit hosted on Friday by Malaysia, was made in the midst of ongoing trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

“It was a very positive meeting,” Morrison told Australian reporters via video link from the Lodge in Canberra on Saturday. “People are very focused on vaccines and affordable early access of safe vaccines – not just in developed countries but in developing countries – and on the recovery, that trade will play such an important role in going forward.”

Morrison is in quarantine at the Lodge following his trip to Japan to meet with its new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga.

He also appeared in a joint virtual press conference with the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, to announce the route for a long-awaited Melbourne airport-to-city rail link, with travellers being promised trains every 10 minutes for a less than 30-minute trip.

Both governments have each committed $5bn to the project. Both leaders said the rail link would underpin economic recovery out of the Covid-19 pandemic, giving the construction industry work and creating thousands of jobs.

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A rail journey between the CBD and Tullamarine airport 20km away has been long-desired by Victorians, who unlike residents in other states, have relied on a Skybus service from Southern Cross Station or taxis for public transport. Construction is expected to kick off in late 2022 and be completed by 2029.

The rail link will run via Sunshine in Melbourne’s west, which the state government wanted in order to connect to multiple regional rail lines.

Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo passengers will get to the airport by changing trains at Sunshine, while travellers from Gippsland in the state’s east will connect into the airport line by changing along the Cranbourne or Pakenham lines.

Melbourne residents along these south-eastern lines – the city’s busiest – will be able to travel 85km direct to the airport in the outer north-west.

All city loop trains will connect to airport trains at Flinders Street and Melbourne Central meaning most Victorians will be able get to the airport by changing trains only once.

The federal and state governments also announced a faster rail link between Melbourne and Geelong, costing them $2bn each. They said it would cut the current 70-minute trip to 50 minutes.

Victoria is preparing for the reinstatement of hotel quarantine, which sparked the second coronavirus wave, when international arrivals resume on 7 December. Initially, the traveller cap will be 160 per day.

The coronavirus pandemic and Victoria’s 112-day lockdown has decimated the state’s coffers, with the state’s treasurer, Tim Pallas, expected to outline a $23.3bn deficit and more than $150bn in net debt in Tuesday’s budget.

The budget also expected to include tax cuts and incentives to lure global companies to the state, as well as already-announced boosts for mental health and social housing.

• Australian Associated Press contributed to this report

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