Australian states are investigating the spread of COVID-19 in quarantine hotels

A worker dumps waste in front of a quarantine hotel where returnee passengers are kept in solitary confinement for some time to combat the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, August 21, 2020. REUTERS / Loren Elliott

The two Australian states have called on staff and guests at the COVID-19 quarantine hotels to be tested immediately and completely self-isolated, launching investigations into three suspected cases of passengers infecting the virus from other residents.

Australia closed its borders to non-citizens and permanent residents more than a year ago to combat the pandemic, and travelers coming from overseas countries are required to undergo a two-week hotel quarantine at their own expense.

New South Wales (NSW) and Western Australian government officials said genetic sequencing found links to the same set of viruses in infected guests staying at hotels in Sydney and Perth during routine tests. At this stage, cases from any foreign country are not believed to be related.

“We don’t have a definitive conclusion on how the transfer happened at this point,” NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant told reporters Thursday.

Guests staying at a quarantine hotel in Sydney, Australia’s most populous city and the state capital of NSW, were tested for the virus of the same genetic sequence as infected people staying in a nearby room.

Authorities fear that guests who ended up quarantining at NSW had a negative test and were allowed to leave could already be exposed to the virus, increasing the risk of spreading in the community.

“Because of the implications if that transfer event happened at a hotel, the question is could other people have been exposed?” Chant said. Several guests from the hotel quarantine have already traveled to other states and territories, Chant said.

NSW authorities said Sunday they would investigate how a three-member family quarantined at another hotel in Sydney returned positive tests with the same virus sequence as an unrelated four-member family quarantined in the same building.

Meanwhile, the state of Western Australia said late Wednesday that two groups of guests staying at the Perth Hotel in opposite rooms were detected in the same order of viruses, despite arriving from different countries at different times.

Although Australia fared much better than many other developed countries during the pandemic, with just over 29,500 cases and 910 deaths, hotel quarantine cases are coming in because its vaccination program has hit big hurdles.

The Australian National Cabinet will meet later Thursday and is expected to urgently involve people over the age of 50 in its immunization action to step up the introduction of the vaccine. read more

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