Queensland authorities are investigating whether the design or air conditioning system in a Brisbane quarantine hotel caused the Covid infection of a miner, whose nine-hour stopover led to lockdowns in the Northern Territory and health alerts across the country. .
As the Queensland government continues to express concern about the hotels’ capacity for returning international travelers and the need for specially designed quarantine facilities, the state health department says it is evaluating whether “environmental or engineering factors” contributed to the transmission of the virus on the fifth floor of Novotel Brisbane Airport.
Deputy Prime Minister Steven Miles told Guardian Australia that “weaknesses” in the hotel quarantine system created risks of virus transmission.
“Public health experts have explained the risks of quarantine in hotels, including positive pressure rooms, inadequate ventilation systems and hallways and shared spaces that are not ventilated,” Miles said.
“The fact is, the hotel quarantine was not designed to last long.”
Guardian Australia understands that the Novotel kits were purchased at one end of the fifth floor corridor, facing the hotel’s rooftop pool. One hypothesis by public health officials is that the design causes air to be trapped at one end of the corridor, putting occupants at greater risk if the virus is present.
A returning international traveler checked into the hotel on June 10 and was screened upon arrival. That person tested positive and was admitted to the hospital on June 12.
A couple who stayed on the same floor contracted Covid in the following days. They were tested on June 19 and received positive results two days later.
The miner spent nine hours on the same floor of the hotel on June 18, while transiting from Bendigo to the Northern Territory.
In response to questions, a Queensland Health spokesperson said the source of the infection was still under investigation.
“This includes reviewing CCTV images and evaluating environmental and engineering factors, such as air conditioning,” the spokesperson said.
“Queensland Health has been in contact with all the people who were on the same floor during the infectious period.
“We know that the Delta variant presents significant challenges for hotel quarantine. We are working with the strongest possible quarantine system available at this time. “
The hotel quarantine leak follows several cases in which Queensland hospital workers contracted the virus despite not coming into direct contact with Covid-positive patients.
Three different nurses at Princess Alexandra Hospital contracted Covid earlier this year, including two who contracted the virus from a patient with whom they had no contact. The room was temporarily closed and is no longer used to treat Covid patients.
Similar concerns are now centering at Prince Charles Hospital, where two staff members have contracted the virus. One was an unvaccinated woman who worked as a receptionist outside the Covid neighborhood.
Thea van de Mortel, an infection control expert and deputy director of the Griffith University School of Nursing, said the cases showed a clear risk of airborne transmission of Covid.
Therefore, he said that adequate ventilation measures were important to prevent the spread, but that quarantine hotels were not designed for the purpose of controlling infections.
“There are engineers who specialize in air flow and ventilation. Really, what they should have done is use these people to evaluate ventilation and flow, air exchanges, air conditioning systems before deciding which hotels to put people in. “
Van de Mortel said that a specially designed quarantine facility would be ideally located near an international airport to limit risk during transfers, but also in a place where small demountable buildings could be extended to prevent transmission between rooms.
Miles told reporters last week that quarantined hotels in Queensland were at full capacity and called for a reduction in international arrivals.
The state and federal governments are working on a proposal for a specially designed quarantine facility in Pinkenba, near Brisbane airport. Queensland also wants a separate facility near the Wellcamp airport in Toowoomba.
“For months we have been advocating for a specially designed regional quarantine facility in Queensland, like Howard Springs [near Darwin], which address the weaknesses that we have seen in the hotel quarantine, ”said Miles.
“The specially designed quarantine facilities include cabins that open to the outside, more space between rooms, better air flow and infection control.
“The more facilities, the lower the risk of leaks in the hotel quarantine and the more capacity we will have to bring home stranded Australians from high-risk countries.
“Australia needs more alternatives to hotel quarantine if we want to get back to normal life.”