Brisbane hotel outbreak remains a mystery

Marty Silk
·3-min read

A couple likely spread coronavirus to a cleaner and two other guests at a Brisbane quarantine hotel without even leaving their room, a report has found.

The pair indirectly spread COVID-19 to three others via contaminated surfaces on the seventh level of Brisbane's Hotel Grand Chancellor in January.

A joint police and health department investigation of the cluster, which triggered a snap three-day lockdown of Greater Brisbane, handed down its report on Friday.

There were no CCTV cameras on level seven during the outbreak, but police concluded from interviews that no one had breached quarantine.

"No direct breaches in quarantine or security were identified and no matters were identified that support any conclusion that offences were committed," the report said.

The cases include a man and his partner who arrived from the UK on December 30, a hotel cleaner and her partner, and a man and his daughter who arrived from Lebanon on January 1.

Investigators said it was likely the first case acquired the virus overseas and spread it to his partner before they spread it indirectly to the cleaner via contaminated surfaces.

She later directly transmitted it to her partner at their Brisbane home.

It was likely the first couple, rather than the cleaner, also spread the virus to the man and his daughter indirectly via surfaces.

"While overseas infection cannot be excluded they most likely acquired their infection at the hotel," investigators wrote.

"The infection at the hotel is most likely to be from contact with a surface that was contaminated by virus shed by case 1 or case 2 (the first couple)."

The report recommended that CCTV be installed in all quarantine hotels, and fewer room visits by quarantine staff.

Due to the risk of infection from the doors of hotel rooms, the report said guests should also be required to wear a mask when opening their doors for any reason.

Queensland Health director-general John Wakefield said the recommendations did not show there had been "a bunch of failures".

"What this is is a bunch of opportunities for us to say: 'We're dealing with a new virus, which is more infectious, we need to ramp up our controls, our risk controls, to make sure they're a match for that'," he said.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said hotels were never intended to be quarantine facilities used for containing highly contagious virus strains.

She commended quarantine hotel workers for stepping up during the pandemic and promised to tighten up the system.

"They're all trying their best, they are doing the absolute best, and when we can strengthen and tighten things up that's exactly what we're doing," Ms Palaszczuk told reporters.

The report noted the cluster was most likely the result of "multiple weaknesses in infection prevention and control" which the state opposition highlighted as a failure of government.

"These failures are the reason more than two million Queenslanders were sent into lockdown," opposition health spokesman Ros Bates said.

The report comes as Queensland agreed to return its quarantine cap to 1300 people per week from February 15.

Ms Palaszczuk's proposal for a network of outback quarantine camps was turned down by national cabinet on Friday.

She said Queensland will still try to set up its own facility at Toowoomba's Wellcamp Airport.

"If the Commonwealth wants to pursue that option to bring home more vulnerable Australians by charter flights, well then the ball's now in their court," Ms Palaszczuk said.

Queensland will also lift hotspot restrictions on Western Australia's South West region from 1am on Saturday.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said as long as there's no new cases, hotspot declarations will end for the Perth and Peel regions at 1am on February 14.