International travellers could be sent to remote Outback camps to self-isolate for 14 days after coronavirus again leaked from hotel quarantine.
The Queensland Government is reportedly considering the drastic move after being rocked by a mystery Covid cluster at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane, which could became a blueprint for other states.
A deeply concerned Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Wednesday demanded immediate changes to the way mandatory quarantine is administered in Australia.
Her calls came after six people at the hotel – four quarantining guests, a cleaner and her partner – contracted the highly-contagious UK strain of coronavirus.
Authorities have yet to work out how the worker, who was infectious in the community for five days, picked-up the virus from a man returning from Britain.
Greater Brisbane was forced into a snap three-day lockdown following the cleaner’s confirmed case as Queensland Health scrambled to contact trace.
Returned travellers across Australia could be spending their 14 days isolation in remote campsites as authorities grapple with Covid leaking out of quarantine hotels. Pictured, the Northern Territory already accommodates returnees at the Howard Springs quarantine facility, 25km south of Darwin
Six people from the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane have tested positive to the highly-infectious UK strain of coronavirus leading to remote quarantine options being considered
The Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster has already led to changes to Australia’s mandatory quarantine, with flight caps reduced, workers being tested daily and negative tests before travel required. Pictured, a returning Australian entering hotel quarantine in Melbourne
The government is now revisiting plans drawn-up mid-last year to house returned travellers in campsites in southern and central Queensland, The Australian reported.
The campsites were used more than a decade ago to provide accommodation to workers while the liquefied natural gas industry was being developed in Queensland.
Owners of the proposed facilities will meet with Queensland police and health authorities on Thursday to thrash out logistics of the plan, such as transporting returnees to and from the site.
Police had already thrown their support behind the plan when it was first mooted as it was easier for officers to manage, which led to preliminary talks with the owners.
But the plans were never followed through with as confirmed cases of coronavirus waned.
Ms Palaszczuk on Wednesday said quarantine arrangements across Australian needed to be overhauled.
The Northern Territory is currently the only jurisdiction in Australia where returnees are not accommodated in a major city hotel. Pictured, the Howard Springs quarantine facility
About 600 people have been forced into quarantine due to the Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster. Pictured are paramedics at the Brisbane hotel on Wednesday
‘I think we need to immediately look at the way in which we are handling people coming into the country, international arrivals, and also, too, looking at the quarantine hotels that they are going into,’ Ms Palaszczuk said.
‘Of course, we have to put in addition precautions and we are doing that immediately, but what we are dealing with here is something that we’ve never had to deal with before.’
Ms Palaszczuk said the nation needed to be on high alert about the highly-infectious UK coronavirus strain.
‘This is of concern, it is of national concern. Everybody needs to be on higher alert with this particular strain,’ she said.
Australians returning to the Northern Territory are already placed in a disused workers camp outside of major residential areas.
The Howard Springs quarantine facility is located 25 kilometres south of Darwin’s CBD and has been used for Covid-related isolation since last February.
Queensland police and health are said to be having talks with the owners of the proposed quarantine camps to work through issues such as the logistics of transporting returned travellers. Pictured, arrivals at the Howard Springs quarantine facility
Almost 130 people who were staying at the Hotel Grand Chancellor were told they were being moved to alternative accommodation on Wednesday. Pictured, returnees staying at the hotel
Howard Springs is currently the only place in Australia where mandatory quarantine is not completed in a major city hotel.
Ms Palaszczuk wants urgent talks with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and her state and territory counterparts about changes to quarantine arrangements.
Any change will need the approval of national cabinet as it could involve changes to to international flight paths.
Western Australia is seen as another location where remote camps would likely work because of the many campsites established for the resource sector.
The Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster has already led to national changes, with hotel workers having to be tested daily and the number of Australians allowed to return slashed in half.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (pictured on Wednesday) expressed concern about the hotel cluster, despite the state recording no new locally-acquired cases
A negative test result also had to be recorded before boarding a flight home.
Almost 130 returned travellers quarantined in the hotel had to be transferred to alternative accommodation after a further two guests staying on the same floor mysteriously caught the virus strain.
Some 226 employees who have worked at the hotel since December 30 must also be quarantined and tested.
An additional 250 guests who have left quarantine since December 30 and remain in Queensland are being contacted as they must undergo another 14 days of hotel quarantine.
The six cases from the hotel cluster were linked by genomic sequencing.
Covid has not only leaked out of Brisbane but in Sydney too – four times in the past month.
SYDNEY’S FOUR HOTEL QUARANTINE BREACHES
1. Berala cluster: Quarantine driver is infected while ferrying a family to their hotel. Inadvertently spreads the virus to a colleague, who visited BWS bottle shop on December 20, sparking cluster
2. Avalon cluster: American traveller tests positive to virus in hotel quarantine in early December. Virus strain in northern beaches is similar to her case, unclear how it got there
3. Sydney Ground Transport driver is infected while ferrying air crew. Tests positive December 16
4. Novotel quarantine hotel cleaner is infected on December 2. No further cases
Both of the city’s major clusters, in Berala to the south-west and Avalon on the northern beaches, are believed to be linked to failures in the system which had largely kept Australia Covid-free for months.
The evidence is most clear with the Berala cluster, where authorities have identified a quarantine transport driver as Patient Zero.
Officials said he was infected – despite wearing protective equipment – by a family who had returned to Australia from overseas.
The driver then unknowingly infected a colleague, who visited the Berala BWS bottle shop while asymptomatic.
A BWS staff member was infected, leading to a second bottle shop worker to catch the highly infectious virus.
The virus has apparently escaped quarantine in Sydney three further times.
Another driver, a Sydney Ground Transport employee who ferried around air crew from the airport to their hotel, tested positive on December 16.
Contact tracers said the Avalon cluster strain appeared to be similar to a virus variant detected in a quarantined American traveller who tested positive last month.
However, just how the virus sprad to Avalon – sparking 148 cases, many contracted at local pubs – remains unknown. ‘We may never find a link back,’ NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said.
A cleaner at Darling Harbour’s Novotel quarantine hotel tested positive to the virus on December 2. She has not been linked to any further cases.