‘No choice’: Experts back CHO’s mass hotel evacuation
Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young had no choice but to order a mass evacuation of the Hotel Grand Chancellor and force more than 100 guests into quarantine for another 14 days.
That's the assessment of public health experts amid fears the inner-Brisbane hotel's coronavirus cluster of six people could grow without extreme infection control measures to stamp it out.
Four Grand Chancellor guests, including a couple who had been in the UK, and a father and daughter recently returned from Lebanon, have all tested positive to the highly infectious UK COVID-19 variant since December 30.
A cleaner who worked at the hotel, and later her partner, have also been confirmed as having contracted the same variant, dubbed B117.
Genomic sequencing has linked all six cases.
Dr Young's concern is that the highly infectious UK COVID-19 variant has been spreading inside the Grand Chancellor through something unique to the building, perhaps even its airconditioning.
Infectious disease expert Linda Selvey, of the University of Queensland's School of Public Health, said Dr Young had "no choice" but to remove people from the hotel.
"Something was happening in the hotel and it may be infrastructure related or it may be human behaviour related and they won't understand that until they really do a close investigation," Associate Professor Selvey said.
"By moving people from the hotel, what they're doing is making sure that if it was either one of those things, if it was the personnel there, or something to do with the ventilation, or the building, then that could be removed from the equation so they don't get more transmission."
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said today the police-health review into the cluster would include "engineering investigations" of the Grand Chancellor.
Queensland Health has insisted quarantine facility workers receive training from infectious disease specialists.
"Hotels have in place processes that ensure employees are following all necessary safety requirements when performing tasks like putting on and removing personal protective equipment," a department spokeswoman said.
Dr Young has also praised the Grand Chancellor cleaner who has contracted the virus.
"At this stage there is nothing that I have found that says that the cleaner did anything wrong," she said.
"This is a virus, a very, very contagious virus and I absolutely want to thank the cleaner for all the help she's provided and she's continuing to provide, remembering she's infected with it, so she is unwell."
Dr Young's predecessor as Chief Health Officer Gerry FitzGerald, a professor of public health at QUT, backed her decision to clear the Hotel Grand Chancellor, given the safety concerns.
"Clearly, it needs to be investigated as to how there could be cross infection from one room to another," he said.
Prof Fitzgerald said infection control breaches could happen even among people working in specialised hospital wards, using the best equipment available and with the most up-to-date training.
Dr Young defended her decision to remove all 129 guests, wearing full personal protective equipment, from the Grand Chancellor to Brisbane's Westin Hotel, in an operation that lasted more than 12 hours.
"We have … got obligations to not only the whole of Queensland to keep this virus out, but we have obligations to those people that we have been quarantining in that hotel that they don't get the virus … from being there," she said.
"We moved each room in their own ambulance. We didn't mix people. That's why it took so long.
"I'm sure people were thinking: 'Why did it take from when we made the decision first thing in the morning till nearly midnight?'
"It's because we couldn't let those people mix within the hotel when we were moving them out and we couldn't let them mix when they went to the new hotel."
Originally published as 'No choice': Experts back CHO's mass hotel evacuation