By ERWIN CHLANDA
SafeNT is going to continue using the Mercure Alice Springs as a quarantine station despite renewed concerns that hotels are not fit for that use.
The WA Health Department has confirmed this week that “the virus was transmitted in hotel quarantine at the Mercure Hotel Perth, as two sets of guests, in rooms opposite each other, had the same sequence of virus – despite arriving from different countries at different times”.
Associate Professor Robert Parker, the president of the Australian Medical Association NT (AMA NT), says the Mercure in Alice “presumably” has windows that cannot be opened and unlike in the Howard Sprigs facility in the Top End, there are no individual balconies for the residents.
“This is not good,” he says. “The virus can be transferred by droplets in the air” as people are using the hotel corridors.
Another factor is the training of the staff: There is no problem if it is adequate.
The Alice Mercure is on permanent stand-by at a cost of $18.4m until November.
A spokesperson for Secure NT says: “The Northern Territory has contracts in place to cover the entirety of both facilities which can be stood up as required.
“The Todd and Ross facilities are important components of the NT’s Covid management plan and are available to respond to various scenarios.
“We are aware of issues identified in hotel quarantine and use the facilities to minimise those risks.”
The national AMA has sounded the alarm about using hotels in early February.
“The latest cases of COVID19 transmission in Victoria are yet another failure of infection control systems in hotel quarantine and show the need for urgent action nationally,” AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said on February 11.
“Two new cases were identified at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport late on Tuesday night, leading to the hotel’s evacuation and more than 950 hotel quarantine workers going into self-isolation.
“It’s most likely that these cases are the result of airborne spread, yet the experts advising Government … have continually played down airborne transmission in the spread of the virus in hotel and healthcare settings.
“The AMA and much of the wider medical profession have been calling for better responses to the risk of airborne spread of COVID-19 for months.
“Today’s news regarding the Holiday Inn is more evidence that these calls should have been heeded earlier.
“The virus has now escaped hotel quarantine arrangements in most states, and we are incredibly lucky to have not yet seen a mass outbreak of one of these new, more transmissible strains.”
The WA Health Department says about the current cases: “All other guests who previously stayed on the same (sixth) floor during this time and have been released from the hotel facility tested negative prior to release.
“These guests will be re-tested and directed to self-isolate until cleared by the public health team.
“Guests who were previously in the rooms immediately adjacent will be self-quarantined for 14 days since their last potential exposure and tested.
“All hotel workers currently undertake daily testing and will continue to do so. There have been no positive staff tests to date.”
PHOTO at top and above: Razor wire on the fence. Shared balconies on the second floor, locked windows?
UPDATE April 27, 12.30pm
SecureNT says as at 7am today, there were 15 people in quarantine at the Alice Springs facility.
Balconies at the Alice Springs quarantine accommodation facility are private.
It is mandatory for quarantine residents to wear a mask and socially distance while using their private balcony.
Security patrols are conducted to ensure residents are complying with these protocols.
Rooms that do not have a balcony have a ventilation window.
UPDATE May 5, 1.30am
The News asked Covid Media: Can you please advise whether all corridors are open to the fresh air? If not, how many rooms or areas are served by enclosed corridors?
In terms of safety, in what way (if any) is the Alice Mercure different to the Australian quarantine hotels in which infections have occurred?
Also, can I inspect the facility and take photos?
NT Health provided the following responses:
The Todd Facility is not a high-rise structure like many of the quarantine hotels located interstate and as a result there is greater exposure to outdoor areas.
There is a significant proportion of rooms that have direct access to outdoor areas, including balconies and courtyards. All occupants in rooms without balconies or courtyards have supervised outdoor activity scheduled every day during their quarantine period.
Since this is a dedicated quarantine facility only quarantine staff members are permitted into the Todd Facility.