Two Australian states have urged staff and guests at COVID-19 quarantine hotels to get tested immediately for the coronavirus and fully self-isolate, as they begin investigations into three suspected cases of travelers contracting the virus other residents.
Australian citizens returning from overseas must spend two weeks in quarantine in a hotel at their own expense before returning home as part of the Australian border closure introduced in March of last year amid the pandemic was spreading around the world. More than 200,000 people have passed through the system since.
Officials in the state of New South Wales (NSW) and Western Australia – on both sides of the country – said genetic sequencing found links to the same virus sequence in customers infected residing in hotels in Sydney and Perth during routine testing. The cases are currently not supposed to be linked.
“We do not have a definitive conclusion as to how the transmission occurred at this time,” NSW health official Kerry Chant said Thursday.
More than 200,000 people have gone through the country’s hotel quarantine system since its inception, but it has also come under criticism, particularly in Victoria state where a procedural breach last June resulted in a wave of cases in the community and a multi-month lockdown in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city. The state did not resume accepting new international arrivals until early this month.
In the latest case in Sydney, a guest staying in a quarantine hotel tested positive for the virus with the same genetic sequence as infected people staying in an adjoining room.
Authorities are concerned that guests who tested negative after their NSW hotel’s quarantine ended and were allowed to leave may already have been exposed to the virus, increasing the risk of it spreading in the community. Several of those in quarantine have already traveled to other states and territories, officials said.
New South Wales authorities said on Sunday they would investigate how a family of three quarantined at another Sydney hotel returned positive tests with the same viral streak as a family not relative of four people in quarantine in the same building.
Meanwhile, the state of Western Australia said on Wednesday evening that two groups of guests staying at a Perth hotel in opposite rooms had the same virus streak, despite arriving from different countries at times. different.
Dr Andrew Miller, president of WADA Western Australia, said risk factors such as ventilation and airflow were “still not taken seriously enough” in the quarantine system for patients. state hotels.
“We need to get a lot more transparency on this and understand why we don’t have proper quarantine facilities because we have a long way to go in this pandemic,” he told the TV station. Channel Nine.
“We see what is happening in Brazil and India. Many of these people want to go home for them and the solution is not simply to keep the border closed. You need to fix your health and quarantine system at the same time. “
Since her quarantine violations, Victoria has revised the system to account for airborne transmission of the virus, modifying hotel ventilation systems to ensure that when guests open their doors, air is flowing from the hallway into the room. , rather than the room in the hallway.
Among other measures, hotel and quarantine staff have also received premium personal protective equipment, including N95 masks, while those in quarantine will be tested for COVID-19 more often.
“The restart of the Victorian system – with these new measures targeted at air transmission – provides a golden opportunity to educate other jurisdictions and hopefully develop a national standard for quarantine in hotels,” Michael Toole, professor of public health at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, writes on The Conversation website when quarantine resumed.
While Australia has fared much better than many other developed countries in battling the pandemic, reporting just over 29,500 cases and 910 deaths, it is struggling to speed up its vaccination rollout.
Australia’s national cabinet will meet later Thursday and is expected to urgently include people over 50 in the vaccination campaign.