Concerns Qatar Airways passengers in Queensland quarantine contracted COVID-19 via ‘superspreader’


Queensland’s Chief Health Officer says she holds concerns for six passengers who travelled on a Qatar Airways flight who may have contracted COVID-19 from a “superspreader”.

Dr Jeannette Young said three passengers from the international flight QR898, that arrived into Queensland from Doha last month, have tested positive for the Russian variant, out of the six recorded COVID-19 cases onboard.

She said she was not worried about the Russian variant of the virus because “it’s not a particularly contagious or problematic variant”.

“The problem isn’t the variant, it’s the one individual,” Dr Young said.

“We know through this pandemic we have had instances of superspreaders. I’m concerned this individual is a superspreader.

“We’ve had plenty throughout the pandemic, we had one individual who managed to spread it in a few hours to 40 other people for instance.

“So we’ve had them all along from day one. We still don’t understand why one person spreads the virus to someone else, or to many other people and other don’t.”

Dr Young said the virus was likely to have spread on the Qatar Airways flight and possibly at the hotel.

Dr Jeannette Young says anyone on the eighth floor of the Mercure Hotel must get tested and isolate.(

AAP: Darren England

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“There’s now six cases, so one of the people transited to New Zealand, then another person tested positive who would have had it at the time they were on the plane.

“Now they’ve then given it to two other people at least, one of them we’re confident happened on the plane but the other one I’m not as confident.

“It could have happened, unlikely, but it could have happened in the hotel because this person was in the room next to the person who was positive.”

Dr Young said she was asking eight people on floor eight of the hotel to be tested and isolate until they had a result.

Seven cases recorded in hotel quarantine

It comes as Queensland recorded no new locally transmitted cases of coronavirus overnight, but seven cases were detected in hotel quarantine from overseas travellers.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said two of those cases were linked to a man who was a passenger on the Qatar Airways flight and tested positive.

She said another five were on a chartered flight from Ok Tedi Mine in Papua New Guinea.

“We are concerned about the number of positives we’re seeing coming in on those chartered flights from the mine in Papua New Guinea,” she said.

“We have been advised the mine has suspended these flights for the next two weeks, and we welcome this announced to ensure we don’t have an abundance of cases coming in.”

Ms D’Ath said out of the 74 passengers on the Qatar Airways flight, six people had since tested positive for COVID-19.

She said as a precaution, eight people who had been quarantining at the Mercure Hotel in Brisbane on floor eight and had since left would be required to get tested and isolate.

“As two of these cases were in rooms next to each other in the Mercure Hotel, we are asking for the eight individuals who have left between the 18th and 21st of February to get tested and to isolate themselves until they get their results,” she said.

“For a number of them, their 14 days will be today or tomorrow but we just want them to get tested and quarantine until we get their results.”

Quarantine extended hours from release

Juan Pufleau and his partner travelled from Canada to Brisbane on the Qatar Airways flight.

They were four hours away from finishing their quarantine period on Wednesday when they were told it had been extended until Monday.

A man in a mash on a plane.
Juan Pufleau travelled on the Qatar Airways flight and is now in hotel quarantine in Brisbane.(

Supplied

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“It was disappointing because you are building up your whole experience, your whole 14 days towards thinking ‘this is day seven, how many more to go?'” he said.

“Then you have your last sleep and you think it’s the last night.

“If they knew there was a test somebody didn’t pass and there was a new strain, then why did they give us release papers and withdraw them at the last minute?”

Mr Pufleau said apart from the lack of fresh air, he was not worried about the virus spreading at the Mercure Hotel in Brisbane.

“We have a window but it doesn’t open so we don’t have fresh air at all — that’s the hard part,” Mr Pufleau said.

“Fresh air also has an impact on the possibility of cross-contamination room to room … but it looks like it’s happened on a different floor so I’m not really too concerned about the cross-contamination inside the hotel.”

Mr Pufleau said he and his partner was looking forward to returning home to Melbourne to see his two children on March 8 when they are released.

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NSW records three locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in hotel quarantine in Sydney



New South Wales has again recorded locally acquired coronavirus cases, after the virus was transmitted in hotel quarantine.  

The state’s health department said three people in one family acquired the virus from a family of four staying in an adjacent room in the Adina Apartment Hotel Town Hall in Sydney’s CBD. 

The two families have been diagnosed with the same viral sequence.  

All guests staying on the same floor have been retested and returned negative results.

Staff who worked on level 12 are in self-isolation and undergoing testing. 

Investigations are continuing into how the transmission occurred. 

New South Wales Health said the families arrived on different days and from different countries.

It is believed the original cases, the family of four, were infectious between Thursday, April 8 and Sunday, April 11.

Both families have been taken to the Special Health Accommodation to be treated until they are no longer infectious. 

Since 8:00pm on Saturday night, there have been no new locally acquired COVID-19 cases in NSW, and 8,088 tests had been reported.

A total of 173,852 vaccines have been administered so far.

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Returning Aussies may be able to quarantine at home, says PM



The “sensible next step” in easing Australia’s international border restrictions would be to allow vaccinated Australians flying in from overseas to quarantine at home, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.

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Scott Morrison announces Howard Springs coronavirus quarantine facility will increase capacity


The Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine facility will soon be responsible for quarantining 15 per cent of all Australians returning on international repatriation flights.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine facility would expand to accept 2,000 returned Australians a fortnight, up from 850.

Speaking after National Cabinet, Mr Morrison said the Commonwealth had entered into an agreement with the NT government to expand the workers’ camp.

“That will be done over the next few months,” he said.

“That is an important addition to the capacity of those quarantine facilities, to receive those return chartered flights that Australia has been putting in place for many, many months.”

After Mr Morrison’s announcement, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner revealed the management of the facility would undergo a significant change — with the NT Government taking over both the domestic and international quarantine operations.

“The Territory government will assume management facility from the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth will continue to work hand in glove with us,” he said.

Mr Gunner said merging the domestic and international cohorts “is what the Australian government wanted us to move to [and] we are more than happy to take on that responsibility.”

Currently the NT Health department is responsible for domestic arrivals at the facility from interstate, while international arrivals are managed by the federally-funded National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC).

Mr Gunner would not say how much extra money the Commonwealth was providing to fund the expansion.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner is standing in front of a microphone with a serious expression. Behind him is the Australian flag.
Michael Gunner says the NT Government will work to increase the cap on arrivals at the centre.(

ABC News: Michael Franchi

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Mr Gunner said this decision had been aided by a significant decrease in domestic travellers needing quarantine and that the change would not increase the risk of the virus getting out into the community.

“What we are moving towards is the same model, with many of the same people involved, but a clearer governance structure and clear certainty of who is accountable for what,” he said.

NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said police had long favoured consolidating operations into “a single governance model” and that the removal of federal oversight would not damage operations.

“The infection and control procedures that we have in place are world class and that is held equally in NT Health as it is with the NCCTRC,” he said.

Vista into the sun from a height looking over the fence at the reception and carpark of the village
The former mining workers’ village outside Darwin has been taking 850 arrivals a fortnight.(

ABC News: Michael Franchi

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“NCCTRC play an incredibly important service to the rest of the country and to international hotspots when they are called upon. We want to make sure that their ability respond is not dulled.”

Mr Gunner said the expansion of the facility would be a “huge logistical job” and that work would begin immediately.

“We have agreed to this expansion because we know Howard Springs can play a larger role for the nation without compromising the safety of Territorians.”

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Inside the Howard Springs quarantine facility

Mr Gunner said the workforce at the centre would need to increase from over 100 to 500.

“A recruitment drive will start this month, and new staff will start and be mobilised from May,” he said.

More than 4,600 international arrivals have quarantined at the Howard Springs quarantine facility since repatriation flights to the Northern Territory began on October 23.

The former workers’ village housed Australians evacuated from Wuhan and the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship before it began taking on Australians returning on federal government-organised repatriation flights.

The village was vacated in 2019 and was handed over to the NT government just before the pandemic hit.

There have been 67 positive COVID-19 cases identified at the facility since flights began last year.

There have been no cases of community transmission in the Territory, with all cases related to international or interstate travel.

Mr Gunner also confirmed that the vaccine roll-out in the Northern Territory was on track, with 1,840 frontline health workers inoculated so far and more than 2,200 vaccines delivered in total.

He said the NT government would receive its first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines next week and would begin administering doses immediately.

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Queensland records one new case of coronavirus in hotel quarantine and one historical case from previous cluster


“We’re now accelerating the rollout of Pfizer across the state,” Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said on Monday.

“The biggest issue is supply,” Dr Young said.

It comes after Australia’s medical experts changed their official advice last Thursday, recommending against the use of the AstraZeneca jab for people under the age of 50 over concerns about the risk of causing a rare blood-clotting disease.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said Queensland Health is still trying to find ways to distribute the Pfizer vaccine — which requires refrigeration at low temperatures — to parts of the state that don’t have vaccine hubs.

“We need to train up our staff to learn how to handle the Pfizer vaccine,” Ms D’Ath said.

While Dr Young said the Pfizer vaccine’s storage and administration requirements differed to those of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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Victoria records first overseas COVID case in new hotel quarantine system


Victoria has recorded its first COVID infection in hotel quarantine since the state again started accepting international flights.

The new case is an international passenger who arrived in Melbourne on a flight from Doha on Thursday.

COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV), the government unit that runs the hotel quarantine program, said the person was a man in his 40s.

He returned a positive test result yesterday and was transferred to a health hotel last night, CQV said.

Health hotels are quarantine hotels set up specifically to hold people who test positive to the virus.

No new COVID infections were recorded in the community yesterday, taking Victoria’s streak of no locally-acquired cases to 43 days.

The new case is the first one recorded in an overseas arrival since international flights started arriving in Melbourne again on Thursday.

The hotel quarantine program was shut down and overhauled in mid-February after the virus leaked out from a hotel and sparked a five-day lockdown.

Measures introduced in this overhaul include only rostering on hotel quarantine staff who have had at least the first COVID vaccine dose, and doubling the number of times arrivals get tested during their stay.

Previously, international arrivals were only tested for COVID twice during their two weeks in quarantine, but they will now be tested upon entering the program and on days four, 12 and 14.

Staff who work in the program are tested daily on shift, and encouraged to get tested on their days off.

More than 2,800 hotel quarantine staff members have also undergone N95 mask fit-testing and refresher training.

“CQV has strict IPC [infection prevention and control] processes and procedures, daily staff testing and workers are N95 mask fit test and trained and well prepared to manage positive cases,” a CQV spokesperson said in a statement.

Data on the Victorian government website says 104 overseas arrivals are expected to land in the state today.

Yesterday, 4,810 vaccine doses were administered in Victoria, taking the total of jabs delivered in the state to 142,130.

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Vaccinated Aussies could avoid hotel quarantine


Australians who are vaccinated against COVID-19 could be able to travel overseas without going into hotel quarantine or even being asked to quarantine at home.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Friday that the health advisory committee had been tasked by the national cabinet to come up with a blueprint on options.

“What we are asking the medical expert panel to tell us is what are the thresholds that we need to be able to meet to do things such as the following – Australians who are vaccinated being able to travel overseas and return to Australia and not go into hotel quarantine, potentially not even into home quarantine at all,’’ the Prime Minister said.

“That will be a major change and to extent to which Australians returning from overseas who have had recognised vaccines also approved here in Australia with appropriate accreditation can return to Australia on that same basis and to enable potentially down the track travel from low-risk countries with similar vaccine arrangements.

“No one is saying that any of those things are coming in today but what we are working and planning for and have tasked the medical professionals who advise us on is what are the marks we have to meet to enable us to start opening up Australia more than we are now?”

Australia has already established a ‘travel bubble’ with New Zealand that was finalised in the last week and the PM hinted Singapore could be next.

“That will give us a greater deal of confidence about when we can move to other countries,’’ the PM said.

“I have mentioned Singapore before as an obvious next choice but at this stage it is still some time away. The message from the National Cabinet is we want to open up more, we want to do it safely, we want to ease restrictions, we want to do that in a consistent way across the country.”

There has been some speculation that in the early days of the international border reopening that priority will be given to business travellers and international students ahead of holidaymakers.

“You’re right, the risk may be such you may limit it to exempt categories,’’ the PM said.

“And that would be the sort of thing we would currently allow people to travel for, which is occurring right now, but that could be done with greater confidence because of the vaccination and when they return they may not then have to take up valuable places in hotel quarantine.

“Or it could be more broad as you say. But I can tell you one thing..the more Australians who are vaccinated, the more likelihood there is of being able to have the types of arrangements that I mentioned. If the vaccination population is lower, then that of course limits to options of borders, and of the other things that we’ve spoken about. So all of those options are on the table.”

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Melbourne hotel quarantine program restarts on Thursday with 300,000 vaccine target by May


As Melbourne rolls the dice for a third time on hotel quarantine, an expansion of the state’s vaccination program has been revealed.

On Thursday from 4.30am, returned travellers started arriving at Melbourne airport aboard flights from Colombo, Doha, Dubai and Singapore.

They have been taken to the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport and the Intercontinental on Collins Street, where they will stay for a fortnight.

The state hasn’t accepted returned travellers since February 13, when workers contracted the UK strain of COVID-19 from guests at the Holiday Inn.

At a press conference on Thursday, health officials were asked if all hotel quarantine workers received their first vaccine dose two weeks prior to the program restarting.

The response from infectious diseases expert Ben Cowie was “almost all” hotel workers have had their first.

“It’s far greater than 95 per cent. New people are continuously being employed into the hotel quarantine program,” he said.

“We’re ensuring they are vaccinated as they come in and then are deployed into the program.

“So yes, the vast majority of hotel quarantine workers have had their first dose and many have had their second dose.”

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Authorities hose down concerns about NT government taking over Howard Springs coronavirus quarantine centre


The head of the specialist health team running the country’s “gold standard” coronavirus quarantine facility says his staff will not leave until they are confident the Northern Territory Government can safely manage a major expansion of the centre.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced the number of international repatriations to the Howard Springs facility near Darwin would more than double to 1,000 arrivals each week from May.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner then revealed the NT Health Department would take over management of the facility, which has been partly run by the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC) Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) since October.

The surprise change has sparked concerns within the NT Opposition and Australian Medical Association NT, which have questioned how the 400 extra staff required will be attracted to the NT and trained.

But speaking for the first time since Friday’s announcement, NCCTRC executive director Len Notaras said he was confident the change would be done safely.

He said there was “no definitive time frames” for the handover and AUSMAT workers would remain at the facility while new staff were trained.

“AUSMAT will continue — and this is important to stress — will continue to lead, operate, and manage the site until such a time as we are satisfied with, one, the consolidation and, two, the transition to the new collaborative arrangement,” he said.

“With the mentoring and with the leadership, the transfer that we will ensure happens, I am confident. If we were just turning the lights out and throwing the keys on the porch, that’d be a different story.”

Len Notaras says the transition from his specialist team to the NT government can be done safely.(

ABC News: Nicholas Hynes

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NT Health has been managing the domestic section of the facility, where no cases of coronavirus have been recorded in people arriving in the NT from interstate.

The AUSMAT team has managed what has been considered the higher-risk cohort of Australians repatriated from overseas, with 67 cases recorded among the almost 4,800 international arrivals at the centre to date.

No cases of community transmission have leaked into the community.

NT Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro on Monday questioned why the government was taking full responsibility for the centre.

Mr Gunner said on Friday that merging the two sections of the centre was the wish of the federal government, which would continue to fund the operation.

But a spokesperson for Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told the ABC: “The NT Government has decided to develop a state-led model of quarantine delivery designed to meet the needs of a larger program similar to other jurisdictions.”

A photo of the Howard Springs quarantine facility, showing a row of dongas each with a small verandah out the front.
The currently separate domestic and international sections will be merged under the new model.(

ABC News: Jane Bardon

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Professor Notaras said his emergency response service never intended to manage the facility long term and it had to be ready to deploy to other emergencies.

“Part of the key of our success is our ability to hand over,” he said.

“We will continue to provide advice, how to ensure the safety and efficiency of the ongoing response, but we’ll be keen to get on with our own tasks.”

Union questions whether extra staff can be found

The NT Government said it would soon launch a nationwide recruitment campaign to find hundreds of new health workers and support staff to run the expanded facility.

But as the global pandemic continues and the national vaccine rollout begins, the Health Services Union has questioned where those staff will come from and how they will be trained.

“Everyone who is or was a health worker is pretty much tied up at the moment,” SA/NT branch secretary Billy Elrick said.

“The expansion is happening very quickly — over two months — that’s not much time to train people up with the appropriate infection-control measures required to work at a facility like this.”

Professor Notaras said the goal of 1,000 weekly arrivals from May was achievable and health staff would be drawn to the NT.

“We’ve got the advantage of a stellar product, a gold-standard product,” he said.

“People want to come because they see that experience will be phenomenal.”

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How negative pressure rooms will solve Victoria’s quarantine woes




Melbourne’s quarantine system will be put to the test as inbound international flights resume. A new quarantine facility is set to overturn past failures. Negative pressure setups are just one of the new measures in place to prevent the spread of infections.

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