Australia’s Delta Strain Outbreak Traced Back to Hotel Quarantine

June 8, 2021 Updated: June 8, 2021

The outbreak of the highly infectious Indian Delta strain of the CCP virus in the Australian state of Victoria has been traced back to a person who was in hotel quarantine in the state.

Acting Premier James Merlino said authorities genomically linked the west Melbourne Delta cluster to a man who arrived in Australia from Sri Lanka on May 8. The man tested positive on that same day and was later moved from the Novotel Ibis to the Holiday Inn “health hotel” on May 14 before being released on May 23.

Victorian health authorities are still unsure how the virus was transmitted from the returned traveller to the infected family. The state’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said there were four potential hypotheses around how the cluster occurred.

The “most likely” scenario is that the man transmitted the virus to a staff member en route to the health hotel or a fellow guest inside the facility before it spread.

“At this stage, we have not identified any high-risk incidents or interactions with staff or residents that may provide a clue as to the link to this outbreak,” Cheng told reporters on Tuesday.

Acting Police and Emergency Services Minister Danny Pearson said that all 24 flight passengers and a Skybus crew who came into contact with the returned traveller returned negative tests.

A further 268 COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria staff, who worked at the Novotel Ibis on May 8 and 9, 360 staff at the Holiday Inn, and 12 residents housed on the same floor of the Novotel Ibis have also all tested negative.

“I can confirm that so far, there is no reported or obvious breach of infection prevention control protocols or anything else that would indicate a transmission has happened inside the hotel,” Pearson said.

The acting premier noted that this second breach is potentially the 21st time Australia’s quarantine system has failed since the program began in 2020.

“We all know that hotel quarantine cannot be made risk-free,” Merlino said. “Hotels are built for tourists, not for managing infectious diseases.”

“Despite all the protections we have appropriately put in place, vaccinations of staff, daily testing of staff, PPE, N95 masks, ventilation works, just to name a few, we cannot eliminate risk in this environment,” he said. “The fact that Howard Springs is the only system in the country that has seen no breaches really speaks for itself. That’s why we have pushed so hard to get a purposed built quarantine facility.”

The federal government and Victoria have signed an agreement to construct a purpose-built quarantine facility on June 4.

The prime minister noted that he was “very pleased” with the Victorian government’s proposal for the facility, which was in contrast to his comments about a similar proposal from the Queensland government, which he indicated had repeatedly said lacked crucial detail and proposed to replace rather than supplement hotel quarantine in the state.

Victoria recorded two new local COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, both of which were linked to the two existing outbreaks.

But the acting premier reassured Victorians that this would not delay the plan to ease restrictions in the state on Thursday.

“Our contact tracing team has done exactly what we needed them to do,” he said. “They have found the cases, they have tracked them down, and they have isolated them.”

AAP contributed to this article.