Stricter new rules flagged for hotel quarantine
Hotel quarantine guests face limits on the number of times they can open their doors under new protocols triggered by fears the Houdini-like COVID-19 virus could escape into hallways.
The Courier-Mail understands the report into the Hotel Grand Chancellor coronavirus cluster recommends changes to tighten hotel quarantine protocols, including ensuring guests wear masks when they open their doors, even when they are picking up linen or meals left outside.
But it found no "smoking gun" of blame.
It comes as hotel quarantine problems is set to dominate the National Cabinet agenda today and after Prime Minister Scott Morrison left the door open to using Toowoomba for "supplementary capacity" for international arrivals.
A cleaner working at the Grand Chancellor contracted the virus last month, triggering a three-day lockdown in Greater Brisbane, before similar hotel quarantine worker cases emerged in WA and Victoria this week.
Four guests at the hotel and the cleaner's partner also tested positive to the highly infectious UK variant of COVID-19.
Health Minister Yvette D'Ath declared the six-person Hotel Grand Chancellor outbreak officially over yesterday.
Ms D'Ath is expected to provide details of the report into the cluster today, but she's made it clear air conditioning and deliberate breaches by hotel quarantine workers and guests have been ruled out.
"There is no breach of a hotel worker going into rooms against protocol and there is no evidence of guests who were quarantining in their rooms breaching that protocol and coming out," she said.
But the report recommends procedures are implemented to reduce the number of times hotel quarantine guests need to open their doors during the day.
Protocols are also expected to be introduced to ensure hotel quarantine guests staying on the same floor do not need to open their doors at the same time.
The recommendations follow worldwide fears about new highly contagious variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
They also come amid concerns that aerosol droplets containing the virus could potentially escape into hotel corridors.
Safely managing hotel quarantine systems around the country, which are the frontline of the nation's defence against COVID-19, remains the key to allowing more stranded Australians to return home.
Systems around the country have come under the microscope following recent cases of hotel workers in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth becoming infected with the virus.
The Melbourne case prompted Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young to warn Queenslanders to reconsider travel plans to the city in case they were "caught" out if the Victorian capital was suddenly declared a COVID hotspot.
Dr Young said health officials would need to see what transpired over the next 24 to 48 hours as they held off shutting the border to Victoria.
At the last National Cabinet meeting, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk raised a proposal to shift some of load from the hotel quarantine system to rural mining camps but provided little detail about how it would work.
Yesterday Mr Morrison said he supported plans for alternate quarantine facilities but any proposal had to meet key concerns about transportation, access to intensive care facilities and a clinical workforce.
But he ruled out one of the most prominent plans from the Queensland Government for a mining camp at Calliope, near Gladstone.
"It is not practical to offload the burden of quarantining overseas arrivals to Gladstone," he said.
"It's not a good idea. If we were to see an outbreak in central Queensland it would be devastating for the local community and economy.
He said the Commonwealth was providing a detailed list of issues and questions to the Queensland Government so it could "properly assess the variability" of another proposal based around Toowoomba's Wellcamp Airport.
It's understood the central Queensland plan was rejected because Rockhampton Airport, where passengers would have arrived, was unlikely to be able to withstand landings from multiple long range flights.
There were also concerns about the airport's lack of freight handling facilities, the distance from the proposed quarantine facility to an intensive care unit and low likelihood of a clinical workforce available to support the facility
A spokesman for Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she had put forward the concept of regional facilities away from densely populated urban centres due to the "absence of a national quarantine plan".
"In order for this concept to work, we need to partner with the Commonwealth," she said.
"It's great that the Prime Minister has agreed to progress the concept, especially as it was recommended in the Halton Review."
National Cabinet tomorrow will also receive a briefing on the vaccine roll out following yesterday's announcement the government had secured an extra 10m doses of the Pfizer vaccine, doubling the amount available.
Other agenda items include an economic update from Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy and the latest on seasonal worker shortages.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young yesterday defended the state's hotel quarantine system during the pandemic.
She said 66,000 people had gone through hotel quarantine in Queensland, with only one case of a worker contracting the virus.
"I don't think we should just say it's not worked. It has worked extremely well," she said.
"Our cleaners, all of those people working in those hotels, have done such a brilliant job. We always continue to review everything we're doing and improve it all the time and that's what we're doing again."
Originally published as Stricter new rules flagged for hotel quarantine