Two Melbourne schools have closed, five suburbs warned and a social housing block forced into isolation after a student who was supposed to be isolating tested positive for coronavirus this week.
The source of the outbreak is East Preston Islamic College, in Melbourne’s north, which has been closed after a Year 5 boy tested positive for the infection.
The boy had unknowingly caught the virus from an infected family member.
The school’s principal, Ekrem Ozyurek, said the boy stayed home from school last week because his siblings had recently tested positive for coronavirus, but returned on Monday.
The boy attended school on Monday and Tuesday after his mother brought a letter from Victoria‘s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) dated October 17, clearing the other children of having coronavirus.
But the school was called on Tuesday by DHHS, who advised the boy was supposed to be self-isolating while he waited for a day-11 test.
“Our understanding is that this student was considered to be a close contact and was meant to be quarantining, but after day 11 he returned to school thinking that it was okay to do so,” Mr Ozyurek said.
“He stayed at home for the first week but I think his siblings had tested negative and he thought he was OK to come back too. But he hadn’t taken the test.
“I think there must have been some misunderstanding perhaps, some broken communication,” he added.
The school was closed on Tuesday afternoon. The following morning, the boy’s test came back as positive – prompting alerts to residents in surrounding areas.
Late on Wednesday night, the DHHS urged any residents of Melbourne’s northern suburbs including Dallas, Roxburgh Park, Broadmeadows, Preston and West Heidelberg who are experiencing mild symptoms to be tested.
A text message, seen by news.com.au, read: “COVID-19 exposure has been located at Preston and West Heidelberg. If you have symptoms, get tested”.
A close contact was identified at Dallas Brooks Primary School, which has been closed for deep cleaning.
The potential outbreak could throw further easing of restrictions into jeopardy, an infectious disease expert admitted.
Associate Professor Sanjaya Senanayake told Today the new cluster would be the first big test for Victoria’s contract tracing team.
“In the first few days you need to try and identify all the cases and try and work out who those contacts are, so having this focused blitz early on is really important and will determine how successful your contact tracing is,” he told the breakfast program.
“Life is likely to be periods of very low cases, punctuated by potentially super-spreading events like this.
“What’s really important is that these events are identified early and that there is a good, quick response, which the government seems to be doing at the moment.”
Professor Senanayake said Victoria could adopt a ring-fencing strategy to bring the outbreak under control.
“So-called ring fencing, where certain areas are shut down while the testing is being done and people are identified with the virus until the outbreak is over … that is not an unreasonable thing, but while life in the rest of the city continues as normal,” he said.
Victoria’s commander of testing and community engagement said the school community was working hard to bring the virus under control.
“The College has taken positive steps to manage this situation and is working closely with us. It has been closed for deep cleaning,” commander Jeroen Weimar said in a statement.
“We need everyone working together to tackle this virus, and that’s exactly what the school community is doing.
“Staff and students who are close contacts — and their households — have been identified and are quarantining for 14 days.”
Mr Weimar said an extensive doorknocking program would kick off this morning, advising locals to get tested and of ways they can receive financial support.