Queensland health authorities have refused to accept blame for the coronavirus outbreak at a Brisbane quarantine hotel but have agreed to implement major changes after an in-depth investigation found “multiple gaps” in the control of infection.
Guests who have tested positive to coronavirus will now be immediately transported to hospitals as the report into the outbreak suggested the highly infectious COVID-19 strain at the Grand Chancellor Hotel was able to circulate through the corridors.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said more than 60,000 returning travellers had gone through the quarantine system without an issue before this cluster, with the findings of the report concluding there were no breaches from guests or staff.
As well as removing infected patients from facilities and ruling out the possibility of the virus being transmitted through hotel’s airconditioning system, the recommendations from Queensland Health and police included:
- Testing workers every shift
- Testing staff at regular intervals after shifts
- Requiring guests to put masks on whenever they open their doors
- Limiting the number of doors open on each floor at any one time
- Reviewing deep cleaning operations
Health authorities and police sifted through hours of CCTV footage taken from the hotel and allegedly found no breach responsible for the cleaner contracting the deadly virus but, crucially, there was no camera operating on the floor of the hotel where infection occurred.
Therefore, the first recommendation from the investigation suggested CCTV be placed in all government-run hotel quarantine sites to “capture all movement movements in and out of guest rooms”.
Despite this, Ms Palaszczuk insisted the cleaner, hotel staff and security “did everything they were supposed to” as she released the findings of the report on Friday afternoon. She admitted, however, the “investigation could not find exactly how the new strain was transmitted”.
Another curious finding by authorities among the “multiple gaps” in infection control was staff did not have access to hand sanitiser between glove changes while cleaning rooms.
Also, one of the rooms remained positive for COVID-19 even after it had been professionally cleaned.
“It is considered that the cluster is most likely a result of multiple gaps in Infection Prevention and Control (IPC),” the report concluded.
The premier instead concluded the virus was “actually just circulating in the corridors” and joined a number of her state counterparts to call for an overhaul as the new infectious strain of COVID-19 continues to break through the defences of secure quarantine facilities.
“Our quarantine hotels are not hospitals,” Ms Palaszczuk told reporters, doubling down on her pitch to have returning overseas travellers moved to regional areas and mining camps after similar outbreaks occurred in Western Australia, Victoria and New Zealand.
“They were never built to serve this purpose and the fact that we’ve been able to manage so many people through hotel quarantine says a lot about the capacity of people coming together under strict protocols to make sure we can look after people to the best of our ability,” she said.
The highly infectious UK variant of COVID-19, B117, was sourced to the Brisbane hotel in late December and early January, leading to a snap three-day lockdown of the greater metropolitan area and a raft of state borders slammed shut.
The outbreak forced an emergency evacuation of the hotel facility and guests into longer stints in quarantine despite the cluster being eventually contained to just six cases.
The first patient was a returned overseas traveller from the UK who passed it onto their partner.
At the time, authorities were stumped as to how a hotel cleaner contracted the virus from the travellers and went on to unknowingly spend days in the wider Brisbane community while infectious.
The worker’s partner also became infected with the deadly virus, but community transmission was kept under control and, on Friday, the Sunshine State recorded 30 days of zero locally acquired cases.
A father and a daughter returning from Lebanon also became infected while staying on the same floor as the original cases but were not in neighbouring rooms.
The state’s health minister, Yvette D’Ath, was given the investigation’s findings from Queensland Health and police on Wednesday and reported there was no breach that led to the spread of the virus.
“There is no breach of a hotel worker going into rooms against protocol, and there is no evidence of quarantining guests breaching protocol and coming out against those practices,” she said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the management of returning travellers would be discussed at national cabinet on Friday morning given the Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide clusters were all linked to hotel quarantine sites.
“Community transmission in Australia today is pretty much zero, or negligible, so we know the risk comes from the quarantine system,” she told the ABC earlier on Friday morning.
“Every time there has been an outbreak it has been linked back to the quarantine system.
“So our collective responsibility is to make it as tight as possible and to make sure that if there is a case of someone acquiring the disease in that system, how we manage it and deal with it and how we reduce the likelihood of any community transmission.”