Push to slash international arrivals as flights resume within a fortnight

International flights into Melbourne will resume on April 8 after they were halted in mid-February following an outbreak at the Holiday Inn hotel, with the number of people allowed back into Victoria capped at 800 per week.

That number is 320 fewer people than the state was accepting before multiple outbreaks triggered a five-day lockdown and closure of the quarantine program on February 13.

COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria commissioned three reviews to assess the ventilation at the state’s hotel quarantine programs, the systems and processes in hotels, and the new, more infectious variants of coronavirus, following leaks from three hotels in under a month.

International arrivals into Australia should be slashed and “vaccine passports” introduced to prevent leaks from hotel quarantine, according to a Department of Health review into mutant variants of COVID-19.

Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng, who led the review into the COVID-19 variants, has also urged national cabinet to introduce home quarantine for some returning travellers.

Of the 19 hotels being assessed for the quarantine scheme, only three – including the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport at the centre of the most recent cluster – have so far completed their ventilation assessments and are ready to accept returning travellers.

Two hotels require modifications “in limited areas of the hotel”, with the floors that have passed the assessment to be used immediately.

Further works are expected to be completed in April. Works are underway to remediate a further eight hotels, and six are being assessed to determine whether they could be used in the hotel quarantine program.

Meanwhile, the Safer Care Review, which assessed the systems and processes at hotels, found that CQV must pay greater attention to ventilation systems, and higher standards must be adopted.

Acting Premier James Merlino said he had written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday morning to advocate for a nationally consistent approach to ventilation.

“Victoria is the only jurisdiction that has done this additional work in terms of ventilation, so we want to share that,” he said.

As part of the recommendations, quarantining residents will now be tested on days zero, four, 12 and 14. Once they have left hotel quarantine, the Department of Health will contact them on day 16 to check for symptoms, and recommend they get further tests on days 17 and 21.

More than 2200 staff working in red zones have also been fit-tested with N95 masks.

The government also released its final response to the Coate hotel quarantine inquiry, and said it would accept all of the recommendations and referred some to be discussed at national cabinet.

A review into the nebuliser incident at Holiday Inn, which authorities believe led to that outbreak, found the man did not tell authorities about his medical device until February 5 – the same day the man tested positive to the virus and was moved to a health hotel.

The report also recommended hotel quarantine staff receive at least the first dose of their vaccine before starting work and that ventilation assessments at hotels are complete before international flights resume.

“It is not possible to eliminate risk completely from a quarantine system, so a strong hierarchy of controls is required, including strong governance, a safety culture, continous quality improvement and robust monitoring and evaluation,” Professor Cheng’s review recommended.

With Jackson Graham

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