By ERWIN CHLANDA
Changes to procedures yesterday raise further doubts about the Mercure Hotel, now known as the Todd Facility, being suitable for COVID quarantine.
There are apparently concerns that the virus could escape into public land at the western side of the complex, between it and the Todd River.
A security detail has been positioned there around the clock to keep an eye on inmates using their balconies, but also, as of yesterday, to ensure that people using the public walking and bike trail do not stop outside the hotel, but keep walking or riding.
The Alice Springs News understands that the security guards are tested daily for the virus.
The area they patrol had been used by occasional visitors, standing outside the fenced facility – on public land – but having eye contact with inmates on their balconies, and chatting with them on their mobile phones.
That is now prohibited.
The News understands that if there were a leak of the virus, such a person, having lingered outside the facility, would be regarded as a “close contact” and thus have to be tested and isolated pending their test result.
The distance from the balconies to the fence is about six metres, and from the fence to the sealed trail, about another six.
Further west is the Todd River, frequently used by Aboriginal groups sitting around small fires.
On the southern side of the complex is the busy Sadadeen connector road – less than 10 metres from the building but there are no balconies and it appears the windows cannot be opened.
The News understands that twice-daily outdoor exercise sessions of 20 minutes, in an internal yard about the size of a tennis court, have been discontinued for those inmates with balconies undergoing 14-day quarantine. Again, this is ostensibly about control of virus transmission.
It is understood that there are currently over 120 people quarantined in the 139 room facility.
UPDATE 5pm July 22:
An NT Health spokesperson says waste water sampling occurs weekly in Alice Springs and to date all tests have been negative.
The most recent sample was taken on 20 July with the results expected today and tomorrow.
There are four sampling sites selected from town water sewer plans.
These separate sites allow for access to the Larapinta region, Northside region, Central Alice Springs region and Eastside and Quarantine Facility region.