Annalink OSHCstudents – Victoria will resume international flights on April 8 following an extensive overhaul of its hotel quarantine program.
The state’s revived program will accept 800 returned travellers per week before ramping up to 1120 arrivals on April 15, subject to capacity and the completion of a newly developed ventilation system.
A number of works will occur as part of the revamped system, such as upgrading exhaust fans, after it was found ventilation was to blame for the state’s last virus outbreak.
Acting Police Minister Danny Pearson said the ventilation review has been “vigorous” in nature, with staff analysing every room.
“This has been COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV) going room by room, floor by floor, to check on each and every room to make sure that when you open a door … air flows in, rather than flowing out to the corridor,” he said.
Passenger flights have not arrived into the state since February 14, when COVID-19 once again seeped out of the hotel quarantine system, sparking the Holiday Inn cluster and prompting a snap five-day lockdown.
It is believed a medical device known as a nebuliser, used by an infectious man inside quarantine, triggered the outbreak after aerosolised particles carrying coronavirus were suspended into the air, causing the virus to spread on the hotel floor.
The man claimed he was given permission to use the device in hotel quarantine, but a review found the man did not tell authorities about his medical device until February 5 – the same day he tested positive and was moved to a health hotel.
Emma Cassar, who heads the state’s hotel quarantine system, today said the working hypothesis was the man’s large viral load – spread by the nebuliser – sparked the transmission.
Additional baggage screening for medical devices will form part of the revamped program following the incident.
Ms Cassar said she was “very confident” in the revised system.
A ventilation review of hotel rooms will be completed by mid-April, the government confirmed.
Ventilation recommendations include improving air flow from corridors to hotel rooms and ensuring all guest rooms have adequate seals and exhaust fans.
“There is an evolving understanding that ventilation systems may need to meet higher standards,” a Safer Care Victoria statement read.
Acting Premier James Merlino said he had written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, calling for a nationally consistent approach to ventilation.
“Victoria is the only jurisdiction that has done this additional work in terms of ventilation, so we want to share that,” he said.
Other changes part of the overhaul include enhanced Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements across all hotels, with 2200 staff to wear N95 masks.
A new online system will also be established to contact ‘map’ staff and their households with a new QR code system.
Travellers will be tested for COVID-19 four times upon arrival – up from twice in the 14-day quarantine period – including on days zero, four, 12 and 14.
Follow-up tests have also been recommended after quarantine, as well as a day 16 symptom check and tests on day 17 and 21.
The Victorian Government revealed it has accepted 61 out of the 81 recommendations made by the Hotel Quarantine Board of Inquiry.
The government has implemented 29 recommendations in full and four partly.
While eight will be implemented in full in future and 20 recommendations have been referred to National Cabinet.
Two recommendations have been rejected, including that staff wear gloves if required to assist travellers with luggage and that COVID-19 testing should occur in resident rooms with the door closed.
The recommendations were rejected on the grounds that hand sanitiser was believed to be a better option and staff were at greater risk testing travellers inside rooms with the door closed.
Mr Merlino said a “zero risk” form of hotel quarantine was not possible, but the government was committed to making continuous improvements.
“We are making it as safe as possible and leaving no stone unturned,” he said.
“It is never a zero risk environment, no matter was decision you make.”
Reviews found CQV staff were well-trained in PPE and hand hygiene.
The vaccination of hotel quarantine staff was also discovered to be the most effective measure in preventing the spread of the virus.
The first vaccine doses have been delivered to more than 4150 frontline quarantine workers in the state and the rollout of the second doses is now underway.
Alternate quarantine models under consideration
The government is continuing to examine alternative models of mandatory quarantine, with ten sites shortlisted as potential locations for a stand-alone accommodation hub.
The shortlist will be narrowed down to one site, which will be recommended in the final business case presented to government.
Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Professor Allen Cheng said three quarantine models had been looked at by officials.
The options under consideration include: an existing hotel model with improvements; a hybrid model combining both hotels and purpose-built facilities; and an accommodation hub similar to the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory.
Authorities went to inspect the Darwin model, however Professor Cheng said it wasn’t necessarily the “gold standard”.
“It’s good in some ways, but would have some lead time, because obviously we don’t have an unused mining camp sitting around waiting to be used,” he said.
“I think it would be fair to say it’s sort of a place to start a reference standard, rather than a gold standard.
“A lot of thought needs to go into designing that if that’s the path the government chooses.”
A review led by Professor Cheng found “vaccine passports” should be introduced to further prevent the virus from seeping out of quarantine.
Professor Cheng said he believed some form of quarantine will be required for “some time” still.
However, home quarantine could be an option in future.
“It may be possible in the future to have home quarantine for vaccinated people, we just don’t know that at this stage.”
Annalink OSHCstudents (9news)