Australia on alert as Sydney’s northern beaches COVID cluster grows, linked to US strain


Catherine Bennett, Deakin University

It’s the last thing anyone wanted to hear, a week out from Christmas. But the growing cluster of COVID-19 cases linked to Sydney’s northern beaches has put Australia on alert.

There are now 28 cases associated with the cluster, with 25 linked directly either to the Avalon RSL, Avalon Bowlo, or both, NSW Health confirmed earlier today. A further two cases are direct contacts of the 25. One case identified via contact tracing, who had been at one of the Avalon venues, had subsequently flown to Queensland, but has since returned to New South Wales.

Genomic testing shows the strain from the northern beaches cluster to be an international variant of the virus, one currenty circulating in the United States. But what we don’t yet know is exactly how and when this international strain entered the country and how it spread to the community. One traveller still in quarantine, who has a similar strain and arrived in early December, is being investigated as a possible index case.

The Sydney van driver who tested positive earlier this week, after transporting international air crew, was also likely infected with a US strain of the virus, but a different variant. There have been no other cases associated with him so far and his close contacts remain in quarantine. In other words, it looks like he did not seed the transmission we’re seeing in Sydney’s northern beaches.

Travel plans disrupted

Today’s news further complicates Sydneysiders’ interstate travel plans, with most states and territories announcing various, and rapidly changing, travel restrictions.

If this cluster continues to grow, it looks likely northern beaches residents will have to rethink their Christmas plans and avoid large gatherings, especially of multi-generational families.

Some of the cases who acquired their infection in Avalon are from different areas in Sydney, and so there is still a risk the spread might be wider than the immediate northern beaches area. This will become clearer over the next couple of days as the contacts of these cases are tested, and as people who attended possible exposure sites across Sydney are tested.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also said residents of other parts of Sydney should be on high alert:

Nobody should be getting on public transport without wearing a mask, nobody in Greater Sydney should be going to a supermarket or a place of worship without wearing a mask[…] It would just be crazy.

A list of sites where people may have been exposed, and are required to come forward for testing, is being updated regularly.

Where did this strain come from?

Genomic testing involves looking at the genetic sequence of various viral isolates to see if they are related. This can tell us whether cases within a cluster are linked, and can help identify the source of the outbreak — whether linked to other local cases, or a new introduction of the virus into the community, as in this case.

Genomic testing has already told us the virus at the centre of the northern beaches cluster is likely a US strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. But we still don’t know how it ended up in the community and in the northern beaches.

The traveller in quarantine, who has a similar strain, arrived in early December. If this is the source, it limits the time the virus has been circulating in Sydney to two weeks or so, which would be somewhat reassuring — there may only be one or two cases in the chain of transmission between the arrival of the virus and the cluster we now know about.




Read more:
‘Genomic fingerprinting’ helps us trace coronavirus outbreaks. What is it and how does it work?


At this stage, we can’t rule in, or out, the possibility of other sources of this virus strain, including infected international aircrew. But news that quarantine arrangements for this group will be tightened, recognising it is a “weak link” in our chain of defence, is very welcome.

Air crews will now quarantine in one of two police hotels between flights rather than being spread across 20 or more city hotels where oversight of compliance with quarantine was left up to the airlines.

Contact tracing is also important

Evidence so far points to a significant “seeding event” on December 11. In other words, a person (or persons) who attended the Avalon venues at this time is thought to have been infectious, infecting a number of people while there. Some of these cases then attended a second local venue a couple of days later and more people were infected there.

The initial “index” case who attended the Avalon RSL on December 11 while infectious has not yet been identified. This person might not have been tested and remains unknown, or they did test this week but are no longer positive as they had recovered from their infection.

The index case could also be one of the cases we do know about — they may have been still asymptomatic on December 11 but infectious, and not developed symptoms till a few days later. Other secondary cases may have developed symptoms at a similar time if they had a particularly short incubation period, therefore it can be difficult to pinpoint who the index case might be.

We already have at least two secondary cases reported among contacts of those cases who attended these venues. That’s why it’s important to trace not just the immediate contacts of those infected, but the contacts of those contacts so that people who have already been exposed and infected, but are not yet infectious, are in quarantine pending the results of COVID testing.

If the evidence points to people in Avalon being infected more than a week ago where PCR tests (the type usually used to diagnose people) might not still work as the virus has been cleared, then authorities can use serology tests to check for past infection. This helps trace backwards, to understand the source of infections, and importantly, how this particular strain was introduced into the community. This also helps identify and shut down any “silent” chains of transmission that might have been missed upstream from the current cluster.

It’s really important to do this as quickly and as aggressively as possible.

What should we be doing in the meantime?

Northern beaches residents will need to continue following current NSW Health advice: limit movement of people into, out of and around the area; work from home where possible; avoid gathering in large numbers or in high-risk venues; and wear masks when they can’t physically distance.

NSW Health is doing all the right things to suppress this cluster. That includes identifying all the key sites where people may have been exposed, especially in Avalon, starting the process of identifying contacts of contacts, and opening up more testing clinics. This, together with the fact that all cases so far can be linked back to the key exposure sites means we are in a good position.

But a lot can happen in the week between now and Christmas. If the cluster spreads more widely, expect further travel restrictions, border closures and a very different Christmas to the one we were expecting only a few days ago.




Read more:
Eradication, elimination, suppression: let’s understand what they mean before debating Australia’s course


The Conversation


Catherine Bennett, Chair in Epidemiology, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sodom found? The quest for the lost city of destruction – Part 3


By Brian Nixon, special to ASSIST News Service

Tall el-Hammam sits in the northeast quadrant of the Dead Sea, in an area known as the Kikkar, or the “disc of Jordan.” It is an area lush with farmland, water, and natural beauty.

Geographically, it is east of Jericho, at about the same level above the sea. To this day, it is one of the most important agricultural areas of Jordan, providing many fruit and vegetable crops for Jordan and for export.

As amazing as it may sound, Tall el-Hammam may also be the location of the ancient city of Sodom.

According to archeologist, Dr. Steven Collins, this site fits perfectly with the geographical profile outlined in Genesis 13-19.

How Dr. Collins arrived at this conclusion involves years of research, digs, and textual research with many colleagues, including Dr. Peter Briggs. Drs. Collins and Briggs developed a means to determine if an ancient text is a “true narrative” through a scientific methodology called “criterial screening.”

The finding? Genesis is reliable for geographical profiles, and therefore can be used to locate sites.

With this bit of knowledge, Dr. Collins set out on a course of discovery.

“When I first had the idea that the traditional site of Sodom (in the southern region of the Dead Sea) was wrong (based upon the geographical indicators), I began to think through the text, coming to conclusion that it was northeast of the Dead Sea.”

After a 250-page research paper, hours of research—in the U.S., Israel, and Jordan— Collins concluded that the site of Tall el-Hammam was the ��?one.’

“I came to this conclusion based upon its geographical location and the biblical text. In the Bible, Sodom was mentioned first in order; therefore it must have been the largest and most prominent city in the area. We find that Scripture usually orders cities by prominence and size. With that bit of knowledge we choose the largest site.”

“As a matter of fact,” Collins continued, “Tall el-Hammam was the largest site by a huge margin.”

Under the auspice of the current dig, Tall el-Hammam’s general area is 40 hectares (roughly 100 acres), which is huge by ancient Bronze Age standards.

With the current dig well under way, the findings have been staggering.

“Not only do we have the right place geographically speaking, but it falls within the right time frame (the Bronze Age), and it was destroyed during the time of Abraham (the Middle Bronze Age). When you add in the pottery, architecture (it was a fortified city), and the chronological consistency of the region to the biblical text, it is a match made in heaven, so to speak,” Collins beams as he shares this with me.

“To make it even more intriguing,” he continues, “there is great mystery concerning this site, and all of its associated sites. For some reason there is what I call a “historical hole or LB Gap” regarding the site. Meaning, after this cluster of towns was destroyed during Abraham’s time, the area was not re-occupied until much, much later; later than the sites in the regions surrounding this particular cluster.”

“It must have been seen as a taboo site of some kind. Something terrible must have happened there that caused people to stay away for so many centuries.”

I then ask Dr. Collins for some evidence.

“Well, to start with, the Tall el-Hammam site has 25 geographical indicators that align it with the description in Genesis. Compare this with something well known—like Jerusalem—that has only 16. Other sites have only 5 or 6. So, this site has many times more indicators than any other Old Testament site. That is truly amazing.”

“Second, our findings—pottery, architecture, and destruction layers—fit the timeframe profile. Meaning, we should expect to find items, like what we are finding, from the Middle Bronze period. This is exactly what we are uncovering.”

“Lastly, we have secured internationally recognized experts to review our findings. One such person is Dr. Robert Mullins, and then there are our colleagues from the Department of Antiquities in Jordan. Dr. Mullins is an expert in Bronze Age pottery, and there are many others as well. My ceramic expertise also covers the Bronze Age. Their conclusions on the matter reflect that our findings are correct. Once again, this is incredible.”

“Though we are still digging and uncovering a plethora of material and artifacts, and much research still needs to be conducted, I feel that the evidence for this being the ancient city of Sodom is increasing by the day.”

“As a matter of fact, even some critics of the Bible are giving this site some attention. There is a host of web activity—both scholarly and downright weird—that has been spawned from this discovery. It is a wonderful time to be in archeology! I must confess that I am both humbled and excited to be a part of something as significant as this.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

SERIOUS PERSECUTIONS AND MARTYRDOM IN THE INDIAN STATE OF ORISSA


By an Indian Missionary to India

Note from the editor:  The following is written by a man who returned to India to establish better training for his fellow Indians.  He is personally known by me and I believe his reports are trustworthy.  I have decided since this was going to be published in a searchable web site not to post his name for prudence and safety sake.

       R. L. Gerard, DOGMA Ministries Servant.

 

Many of you have expressed your concern about our safety and assured us of your continuing prayers for us. Thanks for your encouraging letters! The situation in Orissa is grim. Persecution continues unabated. Media and social organizations are kept out of the troubled Kandhamal District of Orissa. Strangely the government media is affirming the continuation of curfew and fresh killing of Christians in this troubled district while declaring that the situation is under control.  Everyday churches are being destroyed and Christians are being killed.

 Are people really so aggressively religious that they persecute Christians day in and day out here? Or has the lure of plundering Christians to become rich overnight had any role to play in persecution? How do Hindu fundamentalists sponsor these kinds of sustained riots? After a wave of Church demolitions, house burning, killing and extensive plundering, three days back the reconversion of Christians into Hinduism started. Many pastors have fled into other districts. We are hearing reports that many Christians are returning to Hinduism for the fear of being burnt to death. It is very discouraging to know that even pastor’s families are melting under this pressure, going through these rituals of home coming returning to Hinduism. There are rumours everywhere – so much so that it is difficult to know what is true and we are living in constant fear.

The Churches at Balangir, in my home district, have already been threatened in writing that if they don’t returned to Hinduism by the 23rd September certain Christian leaders of Balangir will be killed. My district has a large number of Christians living in a cluster. One thing is sure that any flare up between Hindus and Christians in Balangir will lead to a big fight and bloodshed. We are hearing that Bhubaneswar city, where we are living, is the last target of the Hindu fundamentalists. They have already shortlisted over one hundred Christian leaders of Bhubaneswar area to kill them.

It is true that hundreds of houses belonging to Christians have been destroyed or burned. In the light of such destruction, rumours are causing a lot of fear among the Christians here. I have desisted from reporting to you any news of Orissa because there are no credible reports to send you. The most distressful thing is the irresponsible action of the Orissa government – persecuting the Christians hand in glove with BJP, the Hindu party, instead of defending the weak and the poor. Please pray for the Christians who have lost everything overnight. My heart particularly goes out for the families of those Pastors who have been killed or are on the run and have lost everything for their faith! There is hope for the Church in this troubled state if we can help these Pastors to settle down again and regroup their flocks.

I am forwarding an email which has a few moving pictures of torture and destruction in Orissa. I do not know the sources and details of these pictures. These are obviously, from Orissa state. Anyway, I am sending them to you. I hope and pray that these pictures will encourage you to pray for the persecuted ones in Orissa and India.

We have accumulated a few thousands of books for ****** ******** Seminary.  Just one spark from the enemy can reduce our precious collections to ashes. Many of our faculty and students belong to the Kandhamal district of Orissa where this persecution is intense.  Their parents and family members are hiding and are constant on the move. We will deeply appreciate your prayers for the safety of our family, staff, students and our assets. Thanks for your continuing prayer, partnership and friendship in difficult times like this!

Name withheld.