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Queensland, National Cabinet address hotel quarantine arrangements

Monday 08, Feb 2021

On Friday 5 February, Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath committed to implementing the recommendations in a joint Queensland Health–Queensland Police Service report that followed the infection of a worker in Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor. The report made seven key recommendations for improving training, procedures and hotel quarantine compliance. The hotel quarantine review considered a range of issues, including genomic analysis, policies and procedures, closed-circuit television (CCTV), environmental factors, deep cleaning procedures, and infection prevention and control. The review found no evidence of a quarantine breach, or that hotel air-conditioning transmitted the infection.

However, a number of factors associated with infection prevention and control systems are believed to have contributed to the transmission of infection. This includes the need for enhanced personal protective equipment (PPE) training and the reduction of unnecessary movement of people and items into and out of rooms occupied by international travellers, which could have led to the potential for indirect contact or spread from an object. Minister D’Ath noted that Queensland has accommodated 64,800 people across 74 hotels in quarantine, and this is the first time a worker has been infected.

“While we’ve successfully contained the Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster, we’re determined to learn the lessons outlined in this report,” Minister D’Ath said. “The government accepts the report’s recommendations and we’ll work closely with Queensland Health and Queensland Police Service to implement them. Queensland’s hotel quarantine system works but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it even stronger. It’s especially important in light of the new, more infectious strains coming in from overseas that we seek further improvements to our hotel quarantine system.”

Minister D’Ath thanked the government workers, staff and hotel quarantine guests who cooperated with the review, as well as the residents of Greater Brisbane for their cooperation during the three-day lockdown in January. Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said a thorough investigation was conducted in partnership with Queensland Health, with interviews, reviews of procedures and analysis of intelligence and CCTV. “No direct breaches in quarantine or security were found and no matters were identified to support any conclusion that offences were committed,” Commissioner Carroll said.

Queensland Health Director-General John Wakefield underscored the importance of hotel quarantine when he said that 99% of the state’s cases in the past three months have been overseas-acquired, attributing the success to the support and cooperation from Metro South Hospital and Health Service and the Hotel Grand Chancellor. “While we cannot determine the exact cause of transmission in this instance,” Wakefield said, “we have developed a suite of recommendations aimed at strengthening security and reducing the risk of infection in quarantine hotels. Many of these initiatives are already well underway.”

National Cabinet comments on quarantine arrangement

Australia’s hotel quarantine arrangements were also discussed on 5 February at the most recent meeting of the National Cabinet. At this meeting, in response to the implementation of recommendations of the National Review of Hotel Quarantine arrangements, National Cabinet agreed that hotel quarantine will continue to be the mode used to quarantine returning Australians. Further, the Centre of National Resilience at Howard Springs will continue to operate as an emergency national facility for quarantine, as per the review.

It was agreed that the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory would work together to increase quarantine capacity through an expansion of the Centre of National Resilience. The Commonwealth and Queensland Government will work on further defining the Queensland proposal for a bespoke facility in Toowoomba, and any other changes to quarantine arrangements will be conditional on the work undertaken by a new Taskforce, which will consider the changed risk indicators associated with new strains of the coronavirus (COVID-19), alongside the strength of risk responses to date and in the future, including most significantly the impact of the vaccine rollout commencing in late February 2021.

In a statement following the meeting of the National Cabinet, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there has been a small number of instances of COVID-19 linked to hotel quarantine in Australia. Recent positive cases of quarantine workers in Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria have not seen seeding events into the local community, thus highlighting the continuously improving hotel quarantine processes and procedures, including daily testing and mask wearing.

The situation with COVID-19 in Australia is changing rapidly. For the latest information on Australia’s whole-of-government response to COVID-19, visit www.australia.gov.au.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Erkan