CMO says ‘mistakes happen’ as hotel security guard tests positive for COVID-19

Federal health authorities have conceded “mistakes happen” when it comes to security guards dealing with coronavirus hotel quarantine arrangements, suggesting strict adherence to appropriate use of personal protective equipment can pose a challenge for some.

New South Wales authorities have confirmed a second security guard working at a Sydney hotel has tested positive for COVID-19 and they are not sure where he picked up the virus.

Australia’s borders have been closed to all but Australian citizens and permanent residents since March, and any international arrivals have been forced into a fortnight of hotel quarantine the moment they set foot on Australian soil.

“Mistakes happen,” Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said.

“Wearing personal protective equipment is not something that security guards are necessarily used to or potentially good at.

“It’s very easy to make a slipup in relation to personal protective equipment, even for a well-trained healthcare worker — and we’ve seen healthcare worker outbreaks and aged care worker outbreaks over time.”

Professor Kelly argued the incident was another example of the importance of the hotel quarantine system, acting as a barrier between international arrivals potentially carrying coronavirus and the wider Australian community.

He said the matter would likely form part of the review into the hotel quarantine system, currently being undertaken by former senior public servant Jane Halton.

“While this was unfortunate with that particular security guard, my understanding from New South Wales is there have been no further people that have been infected through that process,” he said.

Caps on international arrivals

A cap on international arrivals of 4,000 passengers has been put in place — particularly with Melbourne not currently accepting any passengers due to the large number of coronavirus cases still being recorded in Victoria.

“This very much relates to the capacity in the hotels: the capacity in terms of rooms, but also in terms of the supports that are needed to ensure that hotel quarantine is safe and effective, and that the support that is given to people in hotel quarantine including physical supports, but also mental health supports — it’s not an easy thing to spend 14 days in a hotel room — are provided,” Professor Kelly said.

“It’s being discussed at National Cabinet every time that National Cabinet meets, every two weeks.

“It was discussed yesterday, it was decided to keep those caps at the same amount again for the next two weeks.”

On Thursday, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told a parliamentary committee that there were around 19,000 Australians overseas currently trying to return home.

Almost 3,000 of those people were classified as “vulnerable” because they are facing financial or medical difficulties.

Professor Kelly said health authorities recognised the desperate situation some found themselves in, but warned hotel quarantine and international arrival caps needed to remain in place for the foreseeable future to control the spread of coronavirus.