July 5, 2022

Coronavirus spread at Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor ‘most likely’ from airborne transmission, experts warn

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Coronavirus spread at Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor ‘most likely’ from airborne transmission, experts warn

A dozen doctors have written to the Queensland Government warning that airborne disease specialists need to be employed to investigate whether there was any airborne transmission of the UK strain of coronavirus at Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor.

Cardiologists, anaesthetists, general practitioners, nurses and physicians signed the letter, asking for aerosol scientists and occupational hygienist to be engaged, along with a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) expert, if they haven’t been already.

“We believe experts from these three fields have an important role to play in elucidating the cause of viral spread both within the hotel, and in future planning for all hotel quarantine around Australia, and could piece together an important piece of this puzzle for the nation,” the letter reads.

Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists president Kate Cole said the group would use science and engineering to make sure that control measures were in place.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has launched an investigation into the Hotel Grand Chancellor.
One medical says health authorities are focussed too heavily on contact rather than aerosol spread.(News Video)

“We’re really the science behind the safety,” she said.

“We need to address and accept the risk of aerosol spread or airborne transmission, because that’s a key piece that’s missing here.

“No amount of reviewing CCTV footage is going to pick that up.

Ambulances lined up in the street and under the Hotel Grand Chancellor building at Spring Hill in Brisbane
Ambulances lined up in the street and under the Hotel Grand Chancellor earlier this week to transport guests.(ABC News: Marc Smith)

Occupational and environmental physician David Allen said he did not understand why the Government had not already engaged occupational hygienists like Ms Cole.

“There’s an ongoing concern amongst a lot of health professionals that the Government isn’t acting on the possibility of aerosol transmission of COVID-19,” Dr Allen said.

“Other agencies internationally, like the CDC [Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US] and the ECDC [European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control], have acknowledged that aerosol transmission is a thing, so I don’t understand why our Government hasn’t acted upon it, but it’s definitely a risk.”

The Hotel Grand Chancellor was evacuated and shut on Wednesday after a spread of the UK variant on its seventh floor.

A major investigation is underway into what caused the cluster that’s so far infected four returned travellers at the hotel, as well as a hotel cleaner and her partner.

‘Surgical masks don’t cut it’

Dr Allen said the current protocols in place paled in comparison with the standards upheld in the private sector, and that the use of surgical masks was ineffective.

“For instance, workers operating a machine that sweeps dust at a factory would be wearing a P2 fit-tested respirator for just dust, but we have healthcare workers dealing with COVID-19 issued with surgical masks,” Dr Allen said.

“Surgical masks … don’t provide a seal, they don’t stop aerosol transmission, and yet patients, doctors and healthcare workers looking at the COVID patients were wearing surgical masks.

“I found it shocking that the healthcare institutions weren’t better protecting their workforce.”

Dr Allen said health authorities focussed too heavily on contact rather than aerosol spread and needed to look at every avenue of transmission.

“It’s like a pilot flying a plane. He doesn’t say the risk of that happening is only 10 per cent, so we can just deal with the other 90 per cent,” he said.

“That’s not how it works in safety.

“You look at every risk, and you deal with it using a precautionary principle, you don’t just ignore it.

“I would engage aerosol scientist in occupational hygiene as a matter of urgency.”

Queensland Health has been contacted for comment on whether occupational hygienists or aerosol scientists are engaged in the investigation.