Communities in the Newcastle and Hunter regions in New South Wales are feeling the effects of a COVID-19 outbreak linked to a Costco warehouse, after six workers tested positive and 1,300 people were identified as contacts.
The opening of the US retailer Costco in Lake Macquarie, which was planned for today, has been delayed after a group of 20 staff from Sydney travelled to the region to help train the warehouse’s 250-strong team of new workers.
One of those Sydney-based workers, however, was positive with coronavirus and unknowingly infected five others.
There are currently six positive COVID-19 cases linked to the outbreak, 700 close contacts and about 600 casual contacts.
Patrick Noone, Costco’s managing director, told The ABC that while he thought the business had a responsibility to open as planned, in hindsight, he should have delayed it.
“We do apologise to the people of the Hunter Valley and Newcastle area,” Noone said.
The business had been preparing to open the warehouse, which is located in the suburb of Boolaroo in Lake Macquarie, for eight months.
Noone said the business had set up a COVID-safe plan that included mandatory masks inside the warehouse, a QR code check-in system, freely available hand sanitiser and temperature checks for people entering the site.
The workers who attended the Boolaroo warehouse also followed the state’s health guidelines by getting COVID tests within 72 hours of entering the Hunter region. All 20 tests returned negative results.
Health authorities have confirmed the infected worker was on site for four days and attended work for two days while experiencing some symptoms, according to The ABC.
Acknowledging the grave situation, Noone said the business takes COVID safety protocols seriously and is “determined to keep everyone safe going forward”.
“Would we wish this not to happen? Absolutely. But it has happened. And we were determined to keep everyone safe going forward,” he said.