A Newcastle health official is predicting a 1970s-themed prom night at a local nightclub could become one of the highest COVID-19 transmission events in the world. At the time of publication, more than 200 of the 650 people who checked into the superspreader event from 9pm on Wednesday, December 8 to 3am on December 9 have contracted COVID.
Hunter public health controller Dr David Durrheim said: “The high level of transmission at this event, it’s going to probably be one of the highest-transmission events this year in any single venue, probably anywhere in the world.”
Argyle House said in a statement on Tuesday night that it would remain closed until “after Christmas” following the growing superspreader event.
“We are devastated that just as things were looking to return to a ‘new normal’, we have unknowingly been one of the transmission sites for this current wave of Covid infections,” a statement posted online read.
“We’re heartbroken to see the effect this has had on so many individuals and businesses in Newcastle.”
There are concerns the Newcastle cluster was started by a person who went to an infected boat party in Sydney Harbour on December 3, ignored self-isolation rules after the outbreak and instead visited Argyle House.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Tuesday he had asked the person to be investigated and be referred to Liquor and Gaming NSW and police if they did not comply with the isolation requirements.
Hazzard told 2GB: “I believe that person was asked to self-isolate for seven days and that person apparently on the face of it may not have done that and went to a nightclub in Newcastle.”
He has also warned against attending venues with crowds and “thumping music”, saying: “Getting back to normality is great… but we should go quietly amid the joy and haste,” adding that if people “wanted a Christmas”, they should avoid public gatherings.
The situation has been devastating for Newcastle’s tourism and hospitality operators.
Newcastle Tourism Industry Group president Kent Warren told ABC News businesses were cancelling end-of-year functions and restaurant bookings were also diminishing.
Some venues have also been forced to postpone year 12 school formals because of positive cases.
NSW COVID roadmap loosens restrictions
The Argyle cluster comes as reduced COVID-19 restrictions come in place in NSW.
From 15 December 2021, some rules have changed, including
- density limits no longer apply
- proof of vaccination is not required at many venues
- QR check-in is now only needed for certain high-contact premises
- face masks no longer need to be worn at many indoor areas.