Experts say the Queensland Government is doing the right thing by eliminating Hotel Grand Chancellor from the equation, as it investigates what caused a cluster of people to test positive to the UK strain of COVID-19 in Brisbane.
- Some people in quarantine at the hotel will be forced to repeat the 14-day isolation period, despite testing negative
- Dr Kirsty Short says authorities wanted to ensure the facility was not enabling transmission through air-conditioning or other means
- Police say they will broaden the investigation with CCTV not available on level seven, where the cluster began
More than 120 people are being moved from the CBD hotel after six cases were linked to it, including four returned travellers, a hotel cleaner and her partner.
Several other guests who have returned negative test results are frustrated after being told they will have to spend another 14-days in quarantine in a new location.
University of Queensland virologist Dr Kirsty Short said there was still a chance travellers who tested negative multiple times could be exposed to the virus if they remained at the hotel.
“There’s now a possibility that they became infected in the quarantine hotel,” she said.
“It’s really, really unfortunate and I really feel for those travellers, because it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience, but this is really the safest thing to do.”
Dr Short explained authorities were essentially removing the Hotel Grand Chancellor from the equation to see if it was the reason travellers were getting infected.
Move ‘like something from The Martian’
Maria Byrne, her partner and their two young children were also staying on level seven of the hotel and were moved to another hotel quarantine facility yesterday.
“There was a letter in our breakfast bag that said we would be relocated to another hotel, so we rang the reception desk and the lady told us the entire hotel was being evacuated,” Mrs Byrne said.
The family were then tested again at midday before they were transported by ambulance to another hotel.
“It was like something from ‘The Martian’ movie, it was unbelievable,” she said.
“There were two ladies in full PPE [personal protective equipment] at the door and the police officer was also in full PPE.”
Mrs Byrne and her partner were asked to put on PPE before they were escorted out of the hotel with their children.
“We were asked to place all our luggage onto a trolley ourselves, so they didn’t touch anything.”
The family carried all their luggage downstairs and were put into two separate ambulances with paramedics who were also in full PPE.
“It’s brilliant that they’re containing the disease, but for us it was a pretty surreal experience.”
‘We’ve tested negative four times now’
Mrs Byrne said her family had already completed 12 days of quarantine and have been told that they must do another fortnight at the new hotel.
“I tried to ask Queensland Health if this is being looked at on a case-by-case basis, because we’ve tested negative four times now,” she said.
“The thought of being in a hotel room with no fresh air for another 14 days with a two-year-old and a three-year-old, it’s unbelievably tough.
“It’s a huge ask of a family with small kids.
“My daughter looks out the window and she sees a playground and says ‘can we go, Mummy?’ And it breaks my heart to tell her no.
“She keeps asking ‘can we go to Australia, Mummy?’ And I tell her we are in Australia and she says, ‘no Mummy, we’re in a hotel’.
“She doesn’t understand, she’s only three, it’s just difficult.”
Dr Umair Ahsan had completed his 14 day quarantine and had a friend waiting outside the hotel to pick him up when he was told he would have to complete another fortnight in the new hotel.
“I don’t feel safe now and I won’t be feeling safe for the next 14 days if they put us in any hotel, because what if there is a new case in that hotel and we need to do another 14 days?” he asked.
He also returned several negative tests.
SARS may have spread through ‘flushing a toilet’
Dr Short agreed with the Government’s decision to evacuate the hotel, as a thorough investigation into what caused the outbreak continued.
“I think that the rationale behind this is the concern that there could be something to do with the ventilation in that hotel or something with the airflow that could be spreading infections from one room to another,” Dr Short said.
“They didn’t want to risk any more travellers getting sick and that’s 100 per cent the right thing to do, moving them from the location.”
Dr Short said it was too early to tell whether the virus could spread through air conditioning.
“It’s a very new area and it’s really not clear,” she said.
“There was concern during the original SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, that actually the virus spread through an apartment block through flushing a toilet and the aerosolisation of probably infectious matter, from the toilet.
“Again, we don’t really fully understand how that happens with SARS-CoV-2, the new virus, let alone, if this is different with this variant that’s arrived from the UK.
“We don’t know enough about it to say if it’s going through air conditioning, bathrooms, or any other way, and they’re just erring on the side of caution, which is the right thing to do.”
Deputy police commissioner Steve Gollschewski said the investigation into what happened would now be broadened and prioritised.
“We need to understand what is happening because this is a dangerous virus and we need to understand the vulnerabilities so we can prevent this sort of thing happening in future,” he said.
“That includes going through CCTV everywhere … [but] we don’t have CCTV on that particular floor, so that means we have to be even more meticulous in going about our investigation.”