Third time lucky for Vic hotel quarantine

·3-min read

Victoria's hotel quarantine program will resume in two weeks, with stricter protocols in place to ensure COVID-19 doesn't leak into the community again.

Acting Premier James Merlino on Thursday announced international flights would touch down in the state from April 8.

Arrivals will be capped at 800 a week, scaling up to 1120 by April 15, subject to the completion of ventilation works at hotels.

Mr Merlino said the state would prioritise Australians "doing it tough" overseas, though he would press national cabinet for a "small proportion" of seats to be set aside for "economic cohorts".

"We don't want to see people returning to Australia simply for a holiday," he said.

International passenger flights haven't arrived in Melbourne since February 13 after hotel quarantine workers contracted the UK strain of the virus from travellers at the Holiday Inn near Melbourne Airport.

The outbreak, which grew to 24 cases, triggered a five-day lockdown.

The state's second wave, which last year resulted in more than 18,000 new infections, 800 deaths and an 112-day lockdown, also leaked from hotel quarantine.

The program was overhauled after a judicial inquiry.

Mr Merlino conceded there would always be a risk of spread but said significant changes to the program had been made following two reviews released on Thursday.

A Safer Care Victoria review called for an "infection prevention and control uplift", including increased use of N95 masks, strengthened end-of-shift procedures, and a new online system for easier contact tracing of staff and their households.

It also ordered independent ventilation assessments at all quarantine hotels.

Only three of 19 have completed the assessments and are ready to accept returning travellers, including the Holiday Inn.

Two hotels require modifications, with the floors that have passed the assessment ready to go.

Work is also under way at a further eight hotels, while six are being assessed for suitability.

Testing of returned travellers will also be boosted from two to four times during quarantine, with follow-up tests recommended on days 17 and 21.

Other measures, including staggered meal times, room buffers and enhanced screening of prohibited devices, were introduced in February after the use of a nebuliser by a Holiday Inn guest contributed to the spread of the virus.

The review found the first time authorities were aware the nebuliser was on February 5, once he had tested positive.

The man claims he told authorities when he entered the hotel that he required a nebuliser.

A review of variants of concern, led by Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng, concluded that vaccinating hotel quarantine staff would be the most effective measure in preventing the spread of the virus.

More than 4150 frontline quarantine workers have had their first jab, with the rollout of the second dose underway.

The review recommends three options for future quarantine arrangements: a strengthened hotel model, a hybrid model of hotel and home quarantine, or purpose-built facilities such as Howard Springs in the Northern Territory.

It also recommends a permanent system to ensure "safe, effective quarantine can be provided into the future, even if the need to quarantine for COVID-19 ceases".

The government is forging ahead with a purpose-built quarantine facility outside the city but it will take a minimum of six months before it will be available for use.

The facility will consist of single-storey, self-contained accommodation, with separate ventilation systems, easily cleanable surfaces and separate staff facilities, and is expected to initially take about 250 people a week.

It comes as Victoria recorded its 27th consecutive day with no local coronavirus cases after 15,446 tests.