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Some quarantine hotels in Sydney are charging a premium for rooms with balconies, with returned Australians revealing they have paid hundreds of dollars extra for access to fresh air.
- Some quarantine hotels are pocketing up to $1,400 for rooms with balconies
- Quarantine guests say the practice is “cruel and unfair”
- Experts say access to fresh air is “incredibly important to reduce aerosol spread”
Radha Govil told 7.30 she forked out $1,400 for a room with a balcony when she checked into the Meriton Suites on Sussex Street in Sydney in mid-November.
“We were told that to have a balcony it would cost us $100 per night, which came to an overall charge of $1,400 for the two weeks,” she said.
Ms Govil, who is a lawyer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Switzerland, said she and her husband wanted access to fresh air during their 14-day quarantine because they have a seven-month old baby.
“We didn’t really feel as though we had any option but to accept that charge and we were told we’d have to pay that fee on the spot to the hotel, separate to the quarantine fee that we’d later receive down the track.”
The $1,400 balcony fee was paid by Ms Govil in addition to the NSW Government’s quarantine fee of $4,000.
“We would have thought that already paying such a high quarantine fee that access to proper fresh air… would be standard,” she said.
Ms Govil said she was told by the hotel that Meriton’s contract with the NSW Government was simply to provide a room, and anything extra could be charged for.
“We found it very odd,” Ms Govil said.
After checking out, Ms Govil called the hotel to question the fee and Meriton ended up providing a $400 discount.
In a statement to 7.30, Meriton Group said special requests from passengers prior to arrival, such as specifically requesting a balcony, are charged an additional fee by the hotel.
“This is part of our participation arrangements and is a way of keeping the base room costs down for the NSW Government, which is funded by the NSW taxpayer,” the statement said.
‘It’s really cruel and unfair’
Eliza Kruger arrived in Sydney from San Francisco in early November.
She was taken to the Radisson Blu hotel where she also asked if any rooms with balconies were available at check in.
“They said they’re not obliged to give it to anyone, but that I could pay $500 extra,” she said.
“I’m lucky to be privileged and that I could afford that.
“I thought it was essential to have access to the fresh air and I couldn’t do two weeks locked in a room without that.”
Ms Kruger told 7.30 that she thinks all quarantine hotels should provide access to fresh air as a bare minimum.
“It has to be an absolute basic that you have access to fresh air.
“It’s really cruel and unfair that these hotels are charging extra for that on top of everything else.”
NSW Police confirmed that some hotels do charge an additional fee for people wishing to upgrade their accommodation.
In a statement to 7.30, a police spokesperson said: “When returned travellers are allocated a hotel room, every effort is made by both NSW Police and the individual hotel to accommodate the needs of individuals and their families.
“Occasionally, a family may wish to upgrade their accommodation, and depending on availability, there is the potential for this to occur for an additional cost charged directly by the hotel.”
Radisson Blu did not respond to 7.30’s questions.
Fresh air ‘incredibly important to reduce aerosol spread’
Occupational hygienist Kate Cole told 7.30 the importance of fresh air in hotel quarantine cannot be underestimated due to the risk of airborne transmission.
“Fresh injection of air into a room is incredibly important to reduce aerosol spread,” she said.
“I remain incredibly concerned that we’re not putting ventilation really high up on the agenda as one incredibly important control measure to keep people safe and reduce the risk in hotel quarantine.”
Ms Cole is one of more than 30 experts and doctors who signed a letter last week urging the Queensland Government to investigate whether airborne transmission was a factor in the Grand Chancellor outbreak.
Six people, including a hotel cleaner and four guests staying on the same floor of the hotel, tested positive to the highly contagious UK strain.
“Aerosols will move wherever the air takes them, so they’ll build up inside that room and then they’ll move in the direction of the air from the air-conditioning system, or where a door opens and closes and goes into a hallway,” Ms Cole said.
Aerosol spread was mostly likely to blame for Adelaide’s hotel quarantine outbreak in November.
An investigation revealed a cleaner and security guard probably caught the virus by simply being in the corridor outside the room of a COVID-infected guest.
Both the Victorian and South Australian governments have recently reviewed and improved ventilation in their hotel quarantine programs.
‘It does keep us up at night’
Ms Cole said authorities in Australia need to start taking the risk of airborne transmission more seriously in hotel quarantine programs.
“Myself, along with many other scientists have been concerned about the downplaying of airborne transmission for many, many months,” she said.
“It does keep us up at night because we read the papers, we read the investigations, we listen to the pressers, we’re so in it and all we want to see is airborne transmission given that really high-risk status that we know it deserves.”
She is pushing for all hotel quarantine workers to be provided with N95 or P2 masks, rather than surgical masks, as a minimum level of protective equipment.
“Until we recognise the importance of aerosol spread and we don’t put control measures in place then we are setting ourselves up for continued failure,” Ms Cole said.
“We need to make sure we’ve increased our standards in hotel quarantine and that’s a key way to prevent it coming into our community.”
Watch this story tonight on 7.30.