Australia’s Hotel Quarantine Under Scrutiny After Third Melbourne Breach

February 12, 2021 Updated: February 12, 2021

The latest in a series of breaches that have led to an outbreak of the UK variant of COVID-19 from Melbourne’s hotel quarantine, and caused a five-day shutdown of Victoria, has led Premier Dan Andrews to suggest a cut to the number of returning travellers.

Andrews said on Friday that there needed to be a “cold, hard discussion” about reducing the number of travellers returning to Australia from overseas.

Victoria entered its third lockdown at 11.59 p.m. on Friday after the UK variant of the virus escaped quarantine at Melbourne Airport’s Holiday Inn.

The outbreak now tallies 13 cases, including a woman who may have worked at an airport cafe while infectious.

On Friday evening, the Victorian government announced a pause on all international passenger flights from Saturday, excluding those already in transit.

The cap had been set to lift from 1210 to 1310 overseas travellers entering Victoria weekly.

Andrews asked whether there should be a “much smaller program” of hotel quarantine that was “based on compassionate grounds.”

The premier said the more infectious UK variant meant the “game (had) changed.”

“This thing is not the 2020 virus. It is very different. It is much faster. It spreads much more easily,” Andrews said. “We, all of us, have to have a conversation about what’s safe, what’s proportionate, what’s reasonable.”

A reduced traveller cap would make it harder for Australians stranded overseas to make it home. Thousands are already struggling with constantly cancelled flights and high ticket prices.

Andrews said it was for the federal government to decide how many people would be returning to Australia.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended the hotel quarantine program, arguing that leaks are inevitable.

“The issue is how you deal with it when it occurs,” he told 3AW radio on Friday. “Hotel quarantine is never 100 per cent fail-safe and to suggest it ever will be is just not realistic.”

The virus has escaped from hotel quarantine in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, and Adelaide in recent months.

The Melbourne outbreak can be traced back to a family of three who quarantined at the Holiday Inn and are believed to have been infected overseas.

One family member, who is now in intensive care, used a medical device called a nebuliser in their room, despite them banned outside of medi-hotels.

By Hannah Ryan