Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport, Saelesian College, St Anne’s Primary School close after COVID-19 cases10th February 2021
The two latest Holiday Inn cases are a returned traveller, who tested positive to the virus after finishing her 14-day quarantine period, and a food and beverage worker. An authorised officer from the hotel tested positive on Sunday.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said health authorities are working on the hypothesis that those cases are all linked to the use of a nebuliser.
“That medical device is called the nebuliser and it vaporises medication or liquid into a fine mist and if that’s breathed in – especially when it is used as medication and someone is infectious or later tests positive – that [can transmit] the virus and that mist can then be suspended in the air with very, very fine aerosolised particles,” he said.
The nebuliser was used by a guest at the Holiday Inn who was taken to intensive care with the virus on Tuesday and is fighting for their life.
Professor Sutton said a nebuliser could create tiny particles of coronavirus that could spread when a hotel room’s door was opened some time later.
“What we know is that the authorised officer [and] the food and beverage worker had been on the floor for a period of time on those relevant days [when the nebuliser was used],” he said.
“We don’t have the exact correlation with the door being open, but as I say, with aerosolised particles they can remain suspended in the air for several minutes so it doesn’t have to happen at the same time.”
Premier Daniel Andrews said vapourising machines, including perhaps sleep apnoea machines, will no longer be allowed in quarantine hotels. Anyone needing to use a nebuliser or a similar machine will be transferred to a designated “hot” hotel.
In light of the hotel outbreaks, Victoria will not increase its intake of overseas arrivals to 1300 on Monday as planned.
“The Prime Minister’s office has been informed that we believe that it is appropriate to have a very low tolerance, or perhaps no tolerance for risk,” Mr Andrews said.
Five of Holiday Inn workers’ close contacts test negative
The food and beverage worker tested negative at the end of her last shift at the Holiday Inn on February 4, but developed symptoms two days later.
On February 8 she was advised she was a primary close contact of her COVID-infected colleague – the authorised officer – and was required to get tested and isolate.
“She got tested on the morning of the ninth and returned a positive result,” Mr Andrews said.
Five of the woman’s 13 household and social contacts have so far tested negative.
Three cases have now emerged at the Holiday Inn in less than a week, while five have been detected in less than a fortnight across three Victorian quarantine hotels. Three are confirmed to have the more infectious British variant of COVID-19.
Cases in hotel quarantine
- JAN 28: Returned traveller at Park Royal Hotel. UK strain. Virus jumped from a family’s hotel room to a guest in the opposite room. British strain.
- FEB 3: Noble Park man in his 20s, resident support officer at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne. British strain.
- FEB 7: Woman in her 50s, authorised office at Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport. British strain.
- FEB 9: Hotel quarantine resident at Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport. Contact tracing and genomic sequencing continuing.
- FEB 9: Food and beverage worker at Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport. Contact tracing and genomic sequencing continuing.
More than 950 hotel quarantine workers across the state’s program are now self-isolating after being identified as close contacts of the five cases.
Guests at the Holiday Inn started being transferred to the Pullman Hotel on Tuesday night.
COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, the government agency overseeing the quarantine program, said 48 guests were considered primary close contacts.
Any guests who were due to leave quarantine in the next three days will be required to stay at least another three days.
“We understand this will be difficult news to receive and will do everything we can to ensure the health and wellbeing of these residents are supported during their new quarantine period,” the agency said in a statement.
“The transfer of the residents will be sequenced and coordinated, and there will be careful management of infection prevention and control measures.
“All staff and residents at the hotel during the exposure period of January 27 and February 9 are considered primary close contacts and need to quarantine.”
Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor, which operated as a quarantine facility, was evacuated in mid-January after a casual cleaner tested positive for the highly infectious UK strain of the virus. Six cases were linked to a cluster traced to the seventh floor of the hotel.
All guests at the Grand Chancellor were evacuated individually in ambulances to another quarantine hotel where they were required to restart their 14-day quarantine period.
Australian Medical Association president Julian Rait has called for the state government to release the results of an audit of the ventilation system in the Holiday Inn before it started housing high-risk returned travellers.
Professor Rait said serious questions remained about whether an adequate examination of the facility was undertaken before the COVID-19 outbreak emerged this week.
“I’d like to see the original audit to demonstrate if it was safe to use in the first place,” Professor Rait said. “We need to see if they have done this, and if not, we need to be asking why not?
“There have been three cases on one floor. One case is unfortunate, but two or three cases is careless.”
Two schools closed, new exposure sites in Sunbury
Salesian College in Sunbury and nearby St Anne’s Primary School closed on Wednesday as a precaution after some members of the school communities were linked to the infected Holiday Inn food and beverage worker.
The Health Department updated its list of exposure sites late on Tuesday night with seven venues in Sunbury, including Cellarbrations and several stores in the Sunbury Square Shopping Centre.
Anyone at those venues at the specified times must get tested and isolate for 14 days, regardless of their test result.
New COVID exposure sites
- PJ’s Pet Warehouse, Sunbury: Case attended venue from 3.37pm to 4.10pm on Friday.
- Bakers Delight, Sunbury Square Shopping Centre: Case attended venue from 3.40pm to 4.15pm on Friday.
- Aldente Deli, Sunbury Square Shopping Centre: Case attended venue from 3.45pm to 4.23pm on Friday.
- Sushi Sushi, Sunbury Square Shopping Centre: Case attended venue between 3.53pm and 4.28pm on Friday.
- Asian Star – Sunbury Square Shopping Centre: Case attended venue between 3.57pm and 4.30pm on Friday.
- Cellarbrations, Sunbury: Case attended venue between 6.17pm and 7.02pm on Saturday.
- Sunny Life Massage, Sunbury Square Shopping Centre, Sunbury: Case attended venue from 4.30 to 6.30pm on Saturday.
- Cellarbrations, Sunbury: Case attended venue between 5.44pm and 6.19pm on Sunday.
Doctor floats caravan parks as an alternative to hotels
Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah, an infectious diseases physician at Monash University said it was crucial to understand how people were catching the virus in the hotels.
“We’ve known for a long time, that COVID can be spread through fine aerosols, which basically accumulate in the air, remain suspended for hours,” she told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Wednesday morning.
“The issue though is that we haven’t really seen this addressed in any meaningful way by any level of government.”
The doctor said she had even been mulling on the novel idea of housing quarantine cases at caravan parks, instead of hotels.
“At least people would then get access to fresh air,” she said.
Berejiklian says Andrews “pretty good at spin”
Meanwhile, interstate tensions over standards in hotel quarantine have resurfaced.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian took a swipe at Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews after he claimed Victoria had “higher standards” in quarantine hotels than NSW on Tuesday.
“I can foreshadow for you that we’re not going to anywhere near the capacity NSW has, we will have less capacity because we have a different model and I believe higher standards,” Mr Andrews said on Tuesday.
Speaking to Sydney radio station 2GB on Wednesday morning, Ms Berejiklian said her Victorian counterpart was “pretty good at spin”.
“I think the people of NSW don’t want me to lower myself to those sorts of statements.”
The NSW Premier said she believed the success of a state’s hotel quarantine system should be measured by how many Australians have been returned home while keeping the community safe.
“Is the system in NSW perfect? No. And I would never boast about it.”
with Mary Ward
Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.
Paul is a Victorian political reporter for The Age.