Russian variant turns 14 days’ quarantine to 19
Dozens of travellers who arrived in Queensland on a flight from the Middle East last month are being forced to spend 19 days in hotel quarantine after four fellow passengers tested positive to a mystery Russian variant of the COVID-19 virus.
More than 70 passengers on Qatar Airways flight QR898, which touched down in Brisbane on February 17 from Doha, were due to end their mandatory 14 days' quarantine yesterday, but will instead remain in two hotels until March 8.
Three people on the flight have been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, while in Brisbane quarantine.
Another passenger who travelled on the same flight to New Zealand has also tested positive.
All four have the Russian variant, dubbed B.1.1.317.
Infectious disease physician and microbiologist Paul Griffin said the Russian variant had not yet been identified as "a variant of concern".
"Steps are being taken, I guess, to ensure that there's no risk until more is understood about the variant," he said of Queensland Health's decision to make the passengers serve another five days of quarantine.
"It seems they're just being extra cautious at the moment."
Associate Professor Griffin said new viral variants were emerging "almost constantly".
"A small proportion of those may well turn out to be variants of concern but the main message is they're all still transmitted the same way," he said.
"If we do all the right things to reduce transmission then the variant becomes less of an issue.
"The main thing is to do the simple things to prevent transmission but also get high rates of the vaccine out there so that we have low case numbers and less opportunity for these variants to emerge."
In a letter to passengers on QR898, the Metro North Public Health Unit said cases of the Russian COVID-19 variant had been identified on the flight, occurring late in the 14-day quarantine period.
"Little is known about the B.1.1.317 strain," the letter said.
"Queensland Health therefore requires all passengers and crew members on the flight to remain in hotel quarantine until March 8 and to undertake additional COVID-19 testing.
"There will be no extra accommodation charges for the additional time that you are required to remain in quarantine.
"We acknowledge that this news will be disappointing and understand that you would have been looking forward to leaving quarantine.
"We ask for your patience and understanding.
"We also acknowledge that some guests have onward flights and accommodation booked and that refunds may not be available.
"Unavoidable costs incurred as a result of your additional quarantine can be claimed for reimbursement through Queensland Health."
The hotel quarantine extension has angered at least one of the passengers, Maria Del Milagro Smith, who travelled to Brisbane with her seven-month-old son.
Writing on the Hotel Quarantine Australia Facebook page, Maria Del Milagro Smith said: "I don't know what the long term effects are we haven't breathed fresh air in 14 days yet another 5 days no fresh air."
No new cases of SARS-CoV-2 were recorded in Queensland yesterday.
The state's total tally of confirmed infections since the pandemic began remains at 1335, including 13 active cases.
Originally published as Russian variant turns 14 days' quarantine to 19