PUBLIC health officials in the Hunter are calling for removalists to down tools until the COVID outbreak in Sydney is under control as the threat of local cases looms "closer and closer".
Removalists, who were relocating people from Greater Sydney to the Hunter on Saturday, have tested positive for the virus after stopping at the outbound Coles Express service station at Wallsend on their way home.
Dr David Durrheim, Hunter New England Health's public health controller, said the close contacts of the removalists had been identified and were isolating at home for two weeks.
These included the service station attendant working at that time, and the people assisted by the removalists as they relocated from Sydney.
"They are now in 14 days isolation - helping our community - and hopefully that will contain the spread," Dr Durrheim said.
Anyone who was at the westbound service station on Saturday, July 17, between 2.45pm and 3pm are considered casual contacts, and must get tested and isolate until a negative result.
"But because it is so soon after the event, they will need another test on Thursday," he said. "We are advising them that even if they are negative with their first test, to really limit any interaction with other folks. Don't go into any high risk spots or where people are congested. It is best just to work from home."
It follows the "low risk" exposure at the Thornton 7-Eleven last week when other removalists from Sydney visited the site while unknowingly infectious.
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Dr Durrheim said unlike the 7-Eleven exposure, the public health team did not have such precise details for the Wallsend site.
"The QR codes were not being used by all customers, so this is a prompt again to everybody to use them," he said. "Because people just duck into these places only for a few minutes, we sometimes forget to check in and check out. If people do that religiously, they may actually find that they haven't been exposed. We are all a bit forgetful, so it's important to use the QR code both in and out of venues."
Dr Durrheim said fortunately, the removalists were wearing masks, but because of the nature of their work - they had likely been working hard and may well have been "huffing and puffing".
"It is a casual contact for most people, but we do take it seriously because what we know about the Delta strain is that it grabs every opportunity to spread, and we have to be really cautious," Dr Durrheim said.
"I'm particularly worried for the people who were using the removalist service.
"They had close contact, they were with these removalists, and they are doing the right thing and isolating to keep the rest of the community safe.
"But given the nature of the Delta virus, I think we are getting closer and closer to having our first local case."
Dr Durrheim said they were advocating "very strongly" that at this point in time, removalist services from Sydney be paused.
"Just by the nature of their work, they cover huge distances in regional NSW," he said. "The workforce draws very heavily on South Western Sydney, where we know the virus is uncontained at the moment.
"We also know the nature of their work means they could be very effective transmitters. We strongly advise all local folk to rethink the nature of any deliveries that are coming to your home or to your business.
"Maybe for removalists, it may well be worth keeping it in storage until we are in charge of the situation in Sydney."
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