NSW reports ‘outbreak of illness’ at childcare centre

Authorities are investigating an “outbreak of illness” at a childcare centre in Sydney after confirming one fatality and three active cases at a nearby nursing home.

Banksia Cottage Childcare in Macquarie Park is 300 metres away from the Dorothy Henderson Lodge, the aged care facility where a 50-year-old female employee, her 82-year-old male patient, and another female resident in her 70s became confirmed cases of local transmission.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard (left) and NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant speak to the media. AAP

NSW chief medical officer, Kerry Chant, confirmed that a group of around 17 children from the childcare centre had visited the aged care home on February 24.

“It is really important that we understand what viruses are being spread in this childcare centre and what is the cause to … absolutely rule out any link between the two events,” Dr Chant said.

Dr Chant advised aged care facilities to suspend all visits of groups of children, citing uncertainty about the “role of children in transmitting COVID-19”.

The two facilities are within a 2 kilometre radius of Ryde Hospital, where a 53-year-old doctor has contracted the disease, and from Macquarie University, an employee of which also tested positive for the virus, albeit off-campus.

The number of cases in NSW held steady at 22 on Thursday, after the announcement of at least 6 cases overnight, while the national count exceeded 52.

Meanwhile, a major union of healthcare workers said it planned to exercise a series of “right of entry” visits to determine whether existing precautions in nursing homes adequately protected workers from the virus.

Health Services Union NSW secretary, Gerard Hayes, told The Australian Financial Review that his organisation had a “general concern” about access to personal protective equipment for staff, citing evidence from the Aged Care Royal Commission.

Mr Hayes confirmed media reports that some aged care workers had not come to work on Wednesday, noting that it was up to individuals to decide whether to “stop work” in response to an immediate or imminent hazard but that the union wanted to establish the facts before providing advice.

“We don’t want people to not go to work thorough a fear of something that’s not been ventilated,” Mr Hayes said.

NSW authorities also confirmed overnight a case at Liverpool Hospital, a young registrar who had attended the same radiology seminar as the 53-year-old doctor in Ryde.

Around 77 other people attended the same conference on February 18, NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard said on Thursday.

The other NSW confirmed on Wednesday night were a female patient in her 30s from the Northern Beaches, a Cronulla man in his 50s, and a female in her 60s who had returned from the Philippines.

The World Health Organisation said this week that some 3.4 per cent of reported COVID-19 cases died, noting that this made the illness more fatal than the seasonal flu, which kills “far fewer than 1 per cent of those infected”.

This was higher than the 2.3 per cent case-fatality rate identified by a study by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, published last month, which also showed that the rate could be as high as 8 per cent for peopled in their 70s, and 15 per cent for those aged 80 and above.

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Bo Seo is a journalist for The Australian Financial Review based in the Sydney office. Email Bo at bo.seo@afr.com.au

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