Victorians are hoping it’s third time lucky for their troubled hotel quarantine program, as authorities spruik stricter protocols to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t leak into the community again.
Some 106 returned travellers will arrive in Melbourne from 4.30am on Thursday from Colombo, Doha, Dubai and Singapore.
They will be taken to the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport and the Intercontinental on Collins Street, where they will stay for a fortnight.
The state hasn’t accepted returned travellers since February 13, when workers contracted the UK strain of COVID-19 from guests at the Holiday Inn.
The outbreak, which grew to 24 cases, triggered a statewide five-day lockdown.
The state’s second wave, which last year resulted in more than 18,000 infections, 800 deaths and a 112-day lockdown, also leaked from hotel quarantine.
The program was overhauled in December after a judicial inquiry, with further reviews conducted by Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng and SaferCare Victoria following the second leak.
“We’ve gone through these hotels room by room, floor by floor to make sure that they are safe,” Acting Emergency Services Minister Danny Pearson said on Wednesday.
“We have adopted and we have changed and we have listened to the report of experts and as a consequence, the program is robust”.
COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria Commissioner Emma Cassar said Victorians should be confident in the overhaul.
“My message is really simple, we have done everything we can to make this as safe as we can and we will continue to ensure the program keeps ahead of this virus,” she said.
As part of the changes, travellers will be tested four times – on days zero, four, 12 and 14.
They will be unable to leave rooms for fresh air without a medical reason, while meal times will be staggered and large family groups spaced out to avoid risk of aerosol transmission.
Infection prevention control has also been ramped up for staff, who have all received at least one Pfizer dose.
About half have received their second, though all workers should be fully vaccinated by the end of April and their family members soon after.
The majority have also undergone N95 mask fit testing and will be required to wear the more protective masks as well as full PPE while working on floors housing returned travellers.
Each worker also has a unique QR code, which records their daily test results, vaccination status and close contacts.
“The QR app has enabled really quick data upload for our public health colleagues. So, in the unlikely event (an outbreak) was to happen, we could provide that information at a great speed of around 45 minutes,” Ms Cassar said.
Arrivals are capped at 800 in the first week, though it is expected to increase in the second to 1000.
The Novotel Ibis Melbourne Central, Pan Pacific, Holiday Inn on Flinders and Element Melbourne Richmond also are also ready for use after ventilation works.
Another six hotels are expected to join the program, including the Four Points by Sheraton, which media toured on Wednesday.
The hotel has been revamped to accommodate the many staff involved in the program, including nurses, doctors, defence force personnel and police.
It even has its own testing site and stockroom filled with toys, baby formula and food, nappies, cleaning products and toiletries to cater for young families, who are the largest cohort to pass through the system.
Authorised officers will be stationed on each hotel floor, where they monitor guests 24/7.
They are not allowed mobile phones or books as they are required to be “as alert as possible” to potential incidents and accidents.
Victoria recorded no new local virus cases for the 40th day in a row on Wednesday, following 11,746 tests.
Australian Associated Press