A rigorous new-look hotel quarantine scheme will accept more than 100 overseas arrivals on Thursday, with the modified system banning floor guards from looking at their phones or even reading books.
COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria officials provided an inside view of the Four Points by Sheraton Melbourne Docklands on Wednesday – one of the hotels set up for the new hotel quarantine system.
Victoria banned international flights in mid-February after Premier Daniel Andrews announced a snap five-day lockdown.
The shutdown was prompted by a coronavirus outbreak linked to the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport hotel, which saw the more virulent UK strain of the virus leak from the quarantine system and into the community.
Since then Victoria has recorded 40 consecutive days without any new case of coronavirus.
CQV chief Emma Cassar said the new scheme was “as safe as we can”, with any staff who hadn’t yet received the COVID-19 vaccine now barred from working at the facility or any other hotel quarantine.
The modifications include doubling the testing rates for hotel guests to four times during their 14-day stay, and an online QR system where contact tracing of hotel staff and their households could be pulled up “within 45 minutes”.
The hotel is divided into “red and green zones” – representing the level of infection risk – with staff performing rigorous hand hygiene as they transition between zones.
Staff in the red zones will be fit-tested with high-protection N95 masks, with a fit-testing process taking up to 20-30 minutes.
Hotel floor guards will not be allowed any use of a mobile phone following previous incidents of officials using their devices and failing to notice guests slipping out of their rooms.
The strict rule will encourage guards to be “as alert as possible”.
Those keeping watch on the guests will conduct shifts of 60-90 minutes, instead of the previously established eight hours in an effort to consider the likelihood of fatigue.
About 106 arrivals on Thursday will be transferred to the The Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport and the Intercontinental.
The Novotel Ibis Melbourne Central will accept arrivals after Thursday.
The Pan Pacific will be dedicated to airline crew, while the Holiday Inn on Flinders would be a health hotel and the Element Melbourne Richmond will be allocated for complex care patients.
Ms Cassar acknowledged infections had escaped hotel quarantine in the past, but assured the new scheme was well set up to keep the Victorian community safe.
“We have done everything we can to make this as safe as we can, and will continue to ensure that the program keeps ahead of this virus,” she said.
“It isn’t a risk-proof program, we’ve been clear on that, but what we can do is ensure that we are … looking at the research and looking at what else we can do or other control measures that we need to put in place.”
Victoria’s Acting Police Minister Danny Pearson said 106 returned travellers would touch down from 4.30am on Thursday.
“We’ve gone through these hotels room by room, floor by floor, to make sure they are safe,” he said.
When questioned about how much the modifications to the new hotel quarantine scheme had cost, Mr Pearson could only say the figures would be revealed in the annual financial statements.
There will be nurses and doctors on-call at the hotel 24 hours to respond to any welfare calls.
There was even a room full of supplies for babies and young children, with items such as nappies, baby formula and other essentials available.
A dedicated outdoor space was set aside for people who required medical assistance.
International arrivals will be capped at 800 in the first week, with the cap extending to 100 as more hotels become operational.