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Coronavirus in wastewater

THE spectre of the coronavirus has returned to Portland after fragments were found in the city’s wastewater.

Local authorities were advised of the finding yesterday morning and have moved to ramp up testing of both symptomatic and asymptomatic residents.

Meanwhile the border to South Australia has been shut on the Victorian side for the first time during the pandemic, with checkpoints expected at Nelson, Mumbannar and Rennick.

Aside from the usual testing clinic for symptomatic cases at Portland District Health, an “overflow” site will be set up at Alexandra Park from Saturday to cater for demand.

Local authorities were still working through the logistics of that with the Department of Health and Human Services yesterday, after this edition of the Observer went to print.

Victorian acting Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said the virus fragments were found in tests done on Tuesday with Portland having “been negative the previous week”.

There has been wastewater testing for the virus in Portland since mid-October.

There were two possibilities as to how the fragments came to be in the wastewater – an active case in the community (though there have been no positive tests in Victoria since October 30, three weeks ago), or “shedding’ by someone who previously had it and still had fragments in their system.

“It’s possible a recovered case from Melbourne has visited (or it is) perhaps a returned international traveller,” Dr Cheng said.

“The message is if you have been in Portland… since Sunday and are symptomatic with the mildest symptoms, please get tested.”

Premier Daniel Andrews echoed that call.

“Anyone who lives in Portland… who has symptoms or even the mildest of symptoms please come forward and don’t delay,” he said.

Given the trace found in Portland, our location close to the South Australian border, and the recent cluster of coronavirus cases in that state, the Victorian government had made the decision to have a “hard” border closure until midnight Saturday and then move to a permit system for South Australians for no longer than was necessary, Mr Andrews said.

Regional Development Victoria was working with local communities that would be affected by a hard shutdown.

“We know of course the border communities have done it tough for a long time,” Mr Andrews said.

“It’s very important to get the border back open as soon as possible.

“It will be difficult in the next couple of days and once the permit system is up and running it will be easier.

“When they (SA) change the restrictions they put in place, we’ll be able to (change) restrictions we’ve put in place.”

SA Premier Steven Marshall on Wednesday ordered the state into close to a full lockdown for at least six days, which would finish on Tuesday night.

Truck drivers crossing the border will be tested on the Victorian side.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent said between 200 and 300 police from Melbourne would travel to checkpoints to ensure they could be staffed around-the-clock.

Mr Andrews said that while the new restrictions had come into force, that would not change what the government was going to announce on Sunday, when there is expected to be a further loosening of Victorian restrictions.

That could include some changes to mask-wearing, though Mr Andrews ruled out removing the mask-wearing requirement entirely.

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