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Health authorities scramble as virus creeps across floor seven of the Hotel Grand Chancellor


Queensland health authorities have spent the night scrambling for answers over how six existing cases of the UK’s highly infectious COVID strain were linked to the same quarantine hotel despite having no contact.

Queenslanders fear the state is “on the brink” of a nightmare after it was revealed that the cases had no direct contact with each other except for the fact they all stayed on the same floor of the hotel, the seventh floor.

Queensland’s Health Chief Dr Jeanette Young has already admitted that authorities are “struggling” to find out how the virus escaped and spread so quickly, while Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has warned the cluster could have implications for all Australian states and territories.

“This is a new highly infectious strain, we do not want to see this getting out in the community. This is of concern, this is of national concern, not just to Queensland, but every where else”.

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A large fleet of ambulances were pictured evacuating 129 guests from the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane’s CBD yesterday after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed it was now a cluster.

Those currently staying in the hotel for quarantine were rushed to nearby quarantine hotels yesterday and growing transmission concerns after genomic testing linked the six cases to the highly infectious UK B.1.1.7 strain of COVID-19.

The strain first appeared on December 30 after a returned traveller arrived from the UK and later tested positive.

His wife later tested positive, along with a hotel cleaner who contracted the virus and infected her partner.

Those cases forced Greater Brisbane into a three-day lockdown after it was revealed the cleaner had visited multiple venues across the city while infectious.

While movement restrictions eased on Monday night, a number of tight restrictions, especially surrounding the wearing of face masks, will continue until next Friday.

The latest two cases, a man and his daughter who arrived from Lebanon, have sparked a new crisis after sequencing revealed they had picked up the same strain.

Health authorities were already stumped on how the cleaner picked up the virus but the two new cases have sparked fear over the rate of transmission and how the virus is moving around.

Premier Palaszczuk said the only known connection between those infected at the Hotel Grand Chancellor was that they were on the seventh floor.

Dr Young said she “doesn’t understand how it’s happened on floor seven”, and suggested the virus could have travelled throughout the hotel.

“We’ve seen in other states there’s been transmission from one floor, missed a floor, then down to the next floor, and they haven’t been able to work out how.

“So now that we’ve had two separate transmission events, I think we have to be very cautious.”

A joint Queensland Health and Queensland Police investigation is ongoing to determine how the virus escaped, with Dr Young admitting the results of the genomic sequencing were “surprising”.

“We know they are linked. What we don’t know how they’re linked in terms of spread from one person to the next. We just know that in some way this has happened,” she said.

“We’re going to be very, very careful about floor seven and see whether that’s where it spread and the rest of the hotel is fine, but we don’t know, so we’re taking a really cautious approach, as we always do here in Queensland.”

“This is new information. To have six people linked to someone who has been in quarantine, that’s different to what we’ve seen before,” she said.

“This has happened very quickly and we’re struggling to find how it’s got out of that room.”

Authorities will examine four days worth of CCTV in the hopes they can pinpoint the moment the infection occurred, but have previously said they may never be able to do so.

Authorities believe the transmissions occurred on floor seven, however Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski told reporters on Wednesday there was no CCTV on that particular floor.

“Not only are we investigating the actions of any persons that were involved with the Grand Chancellor Hotel who worked there or may have been in quarantine there, we are investigating the behaviour of a virus which is new, so this is a very difficult thing to do,” he said.

“That means we have to be even more meticulous in going about our investigation and that will be ongoing,” he said.

Palaszczuk on Wednesday posed the question that airconditioning ventilation may have spread the virus at Hotel Grand Chancellor in inner Brisbane but infectious disease experts say it is unlikely to be the cause of a cluster.

“The WHO, in June, put out a statement on airconditioning,” Griffith University Infectious Diseases & Immunology director Nigel McMillan said.

“They looked at the studies and came to the conclusion that airconditioning systems, that are well designed and maintained, were not a contributing factor to spreading the disease/”

“There’s a possibility the Chancellor’s airconditioning is not well maintained or well designed or there’s some other explanation.

“On the balance of probabilities the airconditioning system is probably not the likely cause.”

A number of venues have been put on alert, with anyone who visited locations including Bunnings Acacia Ridge and Sunnybank Cellars at designated times to get tested and quarantine for 14 days.

Any one who has been at the hotel since December 30 is being urged to get tested and quarantine.

TASMANIA REACTS

The Tasmanian government is urging any one who quarantined at the Hotel Grand Chancellor and is now in Tasmania to self-isolate immediately and call public health.

“Don’t come to Tasmania … that’s what a high-risk classification is,” Premier Peter Gutwein said.

Greater Brisbane will remain high-risk due to the risk of the infectious strain, meaning travellers from the area who arrived in Tasmania on or after January 8 must quarantine for 14 days.

Greater Sydney and Wollongong will remain classified as medium-risk.

The government will review the situation over the coming days.

VICTORIA REACTS

The Victorian government is asking any one currently in Victoria who has completed 14 days of mandatory hotel quarantine in Brisbane at the Grand Chancellor Hotel on or after December 30 to isolate immediately and call the coronavirus hotline.

Travel from Brisbane to Victoria remains banned.

Find more information here.

NSW REACTS

The Queensland government has notified NSW Health there were three people staying at the hotel who have since returned to NSW.

Health authorities are scrambling to identify NSW residents who had recently been at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane amid fears they could spread a highly contagious strain of COVID-19.

NSW Health is calling on anyone who has been at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane since 30 December, either as a returned traveller or as a staff member, to immediately get tested and isolate for 14 days after they were last at the hotel regardless of their test result.



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