Virus threat may see travellers and quarantine staff banished from cities

As Queensland deals with the Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will ask National Cabinet to establish quarantine bubbles in mining camps.

Jan 14, 2021, updated Jan 14, 2021
 NT's Howard Springs facility loaned its name to the National Centre for Resilience - judged to be the worst name of the year. (Photo: ABC/Kim Totham)

NT's Howard Springs facility loaned its name to the National Centre for Resilience - judged to be the worst name of the year. (Photo: ABC/Kim Totham)

Queensland Health continues to track down and test hundreds of people associated with the cluster of six cases of the more contagious UK strain of COVID-19.

While four new COVID-19 cases were reported overnight, all were in hotel quarantine, and none in the Hotel Grand Chancellor where 129 quarantined guests have since been moved to the Westin Hotel in the CBD.

The cluster has so far not spread to the community, however the role of quarantine hotels in the broader health response has come under increased scrutiny due to the emergence of the UK strain overseas and now in Australia.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said reducing Queensland’s intake of travellers from 1400 per week to 500 would give the state some breathing space, and allow hotel quarantine guests to again have balconies. Interconnected air-conditioning is being considered as a possible factor in the spread of COVID-19 in the Hotel Grand Chancellor.

However, Young has discussed other precautions with her interstate and federal health colleagues and Palaszczuk will push for a further crackdown by National Cabinet. Queensland is the first state to confront the UK strain.

“We are going to look at all options and one of those options is to look at some of the mining camps we have in Queensland,” Palaszczuk said, remaining tight-lipped on the details of how it would work.

Palaszczuk suggested some of the mining camps were of high quality and guests would have access to individual units with balconies. She likened the proposal to the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory, and it is also similar to some of the ideas floated for national rugby league teams early in 2019.

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The concern with the existing arrangements is the need for staff, as well as police, health and defence personnel, to travel to and from hotels in populated city areas. If the UK strain is as contagious as feared, that could be putting other people at increased risk, whereas mining camps would allow most stakeholders to live and work inside a bubble.

Young said there was no evidence the Hotel Grand Chancellor cleaner, whose infection led to the discovery of a cluster, had done anything wrong but the investigation was on-going.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said some of the 147 former guests of the Hotel Grand Chanceller the subject of contact-tracing had returned to her state. While there was no evidence the UK strain had spread from Queensland – NSW has recorded the first day without local transmission in more than a week – she said it was prudent to “pause over the next month” to reconsider quarantine arrangements.

“We can’t prevent the so-called UK strain from coming anywhere in Australia, we have to be realistic,” Berejiklian said, predicting it would become the dominant strain.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath thanked Hotel Grand Chancellor guests and staff for their cooperation. She said the guests were moved, and face up to two more weeks in quarantine, to “keep five million Queenslanders safe” and prevent the UK strain spreading further.

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