Melbourne’s worrying Covid cluster surges to EIGHT cases as authorities scramble to figure out how highly-infectious UK strain spread inside the Holiday Inn hotel
Melbourne’s worrying Covid cluster has now surged to eight cases after two more positive tests linked to the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport were recorded on Wednesday.
The Victorian Department of Health and Human services announced a worker at the quarantine hotel is one of the cases and the other is a ‘previous resident who exited the facility on February 7’.
Health authorities are now scrambling to determine where the infected person has travelled to since they were released from isolation on Sunday.
‘There may be exposure sites linked to the previous resident,’ DHHS has warned.
‘Interviews are underway, and any sites.’
The outbreak within the state’s hotel quarantine program will put Victorians on edge after residents last year endured one of the world’s strictest lockdowns.
Melbournians were under stay-at-home orders for 111 days consecutive days from July to November after the virus breached hotel quarantine.
This time, the genomic testing has revealed the latest outbreak is confirmed to be the highly contagious UK strain of the virus – believed to be about 70 times more infectious than the initial variant.
Daniel Andrew’s government overhauled the state’s hotel quarantine program following the debacle.
Melbourne’s quarantine cases:
February 3 – A 26-year old man tested positive for Covid-19 after working at Melbourne’s Grand Hyatt Hotel as a resident security support officer for the Australian Open tennis quarantine program.
February 7 – A woman in her 50s working in hotel quarantine at the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport recorded a positive test for the highly contagious UK Covid variant.
It is not known how she contracted the virus with authorities claiming no protocol breaches were found on CCTV.
February 9 – A food and beverage worker at the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport tested positive for coronavirus
– A second infection was also recorded on Tuesday with a woman who had left hotel quarantine on Sunday returning a positive test.
– A third infection was recorded on Tuesday night from another hotel worker
February 10 – A hotel quarantine worker tested positive for Covid
– A quarantine resident who left the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport on February 7 also records a positive test
With Covid protocols tightened, it is not clear how the virus spread through the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton hypothesised on Wednesday there may have been an ‘exposure event’.
‘The working hypothesis is three cases are linked to an exposure event that involved a medical device called a nebuliser,’ Sutton said.
‘It vaporises medication or liquid into a very fine mist.
‘If that’s breathed in and someone is infectious or later tests positive then that picks up the virus and then that mist can be suspended in the air with very fine aerosolised particles.’
In response to the outbreak returned travellers and 135 staff were forced to evacuate the Melbourne’s Holiday Inn hotel
Guests began the transfer process to the Pullman Hotel in Melbourne from 8am on Wednesday ‘to quarantine an extended number of days’.
The agency in charge of the quarantine program, Covid Quarantine Victoria, said the hotel was ‘closed until further notice for ‘terminal cleaning’, with detailed contact tracing and investigations underway’.
There was bizarre scenes as downcast looking returned travellers waddled towards awaiting buses with makeshift bin bag ponchos wrapped around their bodies.
Hotel quarantine guests were seen marching into buses while wearing lavender-scented bin bags
Tracksuit-wearing quarantine guests move from the Holiday Inn hotel to awaiting buses wearing bin liners
Doctors walked hotel guests from the lobby to awaiting buses taking them to the Pullman hotel
It’s not known why some were wearing the liners and others were simply wearing a mask to pack their luggage on board and safely retreat.
‘All staff and residents at the hotel during the exposure period of January 27 and February 9 are considered primary close contacts and need to quarantine,’ a spokesperson for CQV said.
‘Approximately 135 staff across all programs at the hotel were stood down last night and instructed to quarantine for 14 days at home and get retested.
‘So that we can rule out any potential coronavirus transmission while investigations are continuing, CQV has informed 48 residents at the hotel that they are considered primary close contacts.’
It’s expected the Holiday Inn will remain closed for at least a week while health authorities investigate the ventilation system.
The three Holiday Inn cases were likely linked to a floor with known Covid-positive guests – including a family of three.