February 21, 2024

Quarantining Australians sound the alarm on ordinary guests staying in COVID hotels

Returned travellers have raised the alarm about members of the general public being allowed to…

Quarantining Australians sound the alarm on ordinary guests staying in COVID hotels

Returned travellers have raised the alarm about members of the general public being allowed to stay at the same hotels as those in mandatory quarantine.

7.30 has spoken with travellers inside the Hyatt Regency Perth who are baffled as to why the practice is being allowed.

James Whitehouse returned from the UK after attending his father’s funeral and has nearly finished his mandatory stay on Level 2 of the Hyatt Regency.

He told 7.30 he rang reception to query why some guests on the floor below had access to a balcony and fresh air.

He said he was told they were not quarantining, but were instead regular paying guests.

“If I was the paying customer I would not be taking that risk,” Mr Whitehouse said.

“I think that’s an unnecessary risk. I’m amazed the hotel’s been allowed to do that by the government.”

The front of the Hyatt Regency Perth building.
The Hyatt Regency in Perth is housing returned travellers in quarantine as well as regular members of the public.(ABC News: Hannah Sinclair)

7.30 understands Levels 1 and 9 of the Hyatt Regency are available to the public, while levels 2 through to 8 are for returned travellers.

Members of the public are also welcome to book rooms at the Pan Pacific Perth, another quarantine hotel.

In a statement, a WA Health spokesperson confirmed two Perth quarantine hotels were open to the public, saying both had to “meet strict requirements” and ensure that “the hotel is clearly divided into two very separate areas”.

A trolley outside the Pan Pacific Perth hotel.
The Pan Pacific Perth is open to quarantining travellers and general members of the public.(ABC News: Hannah Sinclair)

The hotels must use “separate kitchen staff” and be certain that “function room guests do not have access to quarantine areas”.

Both hotels were approached by 7.30 but declined to be interviewed. 

“This is probably one of the strangest decisions, that we’re allowed to have quarantiners and the general public in the same vicinity,” Mr Whitehouse said.

“I thought the whole idea was that we were in isolation.”

Mr Whitehouse told 7.30 he could see at least five balconies on the floor below and that “most” of the rooms had been used at least once or twice by members of the public.

“It seems very odd that we’re running the risks like that,” he said.

‘Not a risk’

A close up of Mark McGowan wearing a blue suit, standing outside with green trees and blue sky behind him.
Mark McGowan says he’s been advised that allowing the public to stay in quarantine hotels is not a risk.(ABC News: Briana Shepherd)

WA Premier Mark McGowan said the use of quarantine hotels by members of the public had been “queried at length” with medical advisors, and the advice was that “it is not a risk”.

More than 2 million people endured a snap five-day lockdown in Perth and surrounding areas last week.

The shutdown was sparked by a single case of coronavirus contracted by a young security guard working at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel.

A review into the breach is ongoing and WA Health Minister Roger Cook has now made it mandatory for all workers in high-risk areas of hotel security to wear masks and eye protection.

The WA Government has also moved to stop hotel quarantine security staff having other jobs.

A WA Health spokesperson said “an independent review of airflow and ventilation” in its quarantine hotels would be commissioned, and while “the logistics and scope of the review are being finalised, an early stage of the review commenced last Friday”. 

Ventilation concerns

A woman wearing a red top holds up two face masks.
Occupational hygienist Candice Dix believes more needs to be done in quarantine hotels to prevent aerosol spread.(ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck)

Candice Dix works as an occupational hygienist for mining giant Rio Tinto and has firsthand experience of Australia’s hotel quarantine system.

The mother of four spent 14 days in a Sydney hotel last year with her young twins, after they were born through surrogacy in Ukraine.

“What I noticed was that there was massive inconsistency with the kind of respiratory protection that was in place for these [hotel quarantine] workers,” Ms Dix told 7.30.

“Also what concerned me was … what kind of ventilation controls are in place for these enclosed hotels?”

In her role as an occupational hygienist, Ms Dix looks for anything posing a risk to work or health, including thermal stress, radiation, asbestos or silica exposure.

Ms Dix said extreme measures were taken to combat airborne risks on mine sites, and a similar approach should be taken in order to keep quarantine workers safe.

“If we can do it on a remote site, we can do it for our quarantine workers,” she told 7.30.

“We know that COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air, the science backs it up. So until we start acting like it is in the air, we’re going to continue to see these kinds of outbreaks.”

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Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly says Australia’s hotel quarantine system will be reviewed.

Ms Dix argued workers should be wearing a fitted P2 respirator or higher, and that they should be trained in how to wear the respirators correctly.

She also said people should be clean shaven to prevent aerosols getting into the respirator.

When asked about ordinary guests staying in quarantine hotels, she told 7.30 it was “an unnecessary risk” to put the public in the same facility as people who were quarantining.

“[The virus] can stay in the air for some hours. So if you’ve gone into a lift … and the next person comes in, they can breathe and be exposed to that,” Ms Dix said.

“I would never let my family stay in a quarantine facility.”

WA Health said hotels housing ordinary guests as well as quarantining guests had to make sure that “all function room guests arrive through a completely separate entrance/exit point to the quarantine area”, and that all staff were trained in infection prevention and control.