As global COVID-19 cases soar, six returning Australians in Queensland hotel quarantine have tested positive to the virus.
The new cases bring Queensland’s total active tally to 21, the highest it’s been since September 19 when the state was battling its last community outbreak.
Globally, numbers have hit 67.3 million, with the United States recording one million new cases in the last five days amid fears the approaching winter will devastate the northern hemisphere.
It comes as Queensland’s chief health officer, in an attempt to mitigate any potential escape of the virus from the state-managed quarantine facilities, confirmed “fresh air breaks” would no longer be allowed.
Until Monday, hotel quarantine guests in Queensland were allowed three or four 15-minute breaks a day if they did not have a balcony or openable window or for a health reason.
Guests were told by police on Monday that those breaks, a lifeline for many people in quarantine, were immediately suspended.
Dr Jeannette Young confirmed the risk had become too significant to allow the breaks to continue, given Queensland on Tuesday marked 84 days without a case of community transmission.
“I’ve been concerned about enabling those fresh air breaks right from the start (of the pandemic), and it has now become increasingly difficult to support them given the large number of cases we’re seeing come out every day,” she told reporters on Monday.
“The risk just increases, and the whole point of hotel quarantine is that people don’t mingle.”
Those inside the facilities say they are being denied a human right, with many considering filing complaints to the Queensland Human Rights Commission, who have previously ordered the allowance of fresh air breaks.
In October, the QHRC Commissioner released a report following complaints about a hotel quarantine being denied fresh air and said that “at a minimum, international law supports a right of people in hotel quarantine to daily access to fresh air.”
“In the Commissioner’s view, the legitimate purpose of protecting the Queensland community’s right to life could be achieved while still providing those in quarantine with daily access to fresh outdoor air, for example, by only using accommodation that has opening windows or balconies for quarantine,” the report said.
At a minimum, QHRC said opening windows or balconies should be the minimum standard for the selection of quarantine hotels if fresh air breaks outside cannot be supported.
Queensland police said they wanted to ensure a standard practice across all quarantine facilities, and the breaks were a risk to public health and the safety of “all persons involved”.
“It is, however, acknowledged that some exceptional circumstances may exist where fresh air breaks are necessary to support the particular needs of a quarantined person,” a police spokesperson said.
Those who test positive in a quarantine hotel are immediately transferred to hospital rather than being treated in their room in order to reduce the risk of infection to hotel staff and other guests.
Last month, Dr Young introduced a new directive for those working in hotel quarantine, with all employees to be tested once a week.
Queensland has managed to provide a fairly robust hotel quarantine system run by police with support from Queensland Health and the Australian Defence Force while outbreaks have been linked to facilities in other states.
Victoria relaunched its hotel quarantine on Monday after a deadly second wave killed 800 people when the virus escaped from the facilities and spread throughout the state.
South Australia has also had cases in the recent Parafield cluster linked to hotel quarantine, while a NSW woman tested positive last week, believed to be linked to American flight crew isolating in the hotel she worked at.