A slack testing regime at Adelaide’s hotel quarantine sites is being blamed for a dangerous COVID cluster threatening to shut down the state.
South Australia’s health officer Nicola Spurrier said the outbreak, sourced from the medi-hotel in the CBD, poses the greatest coronavirus threat to the state so far as authorities scramble to perform vital contact tracing.
The state hadn’t recorded a locally acquired infection since April, but health experts were growing cautious of the number of confirmed patients entering the hotel quarantine system as part of SA’s role in repatriating stranded residents from overseas.
How regularly medi-hotel staff were tested is being questioned after the source of the outbreak was traced back to a cleaner who worked at a quarantine holding facility, Peppers Waymouth Hotel.
Staff at these high-risk sites were only tested when they nominated symptoms, described as a “breakdown in systems” by former World Health Organisation epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman.
“Many hotels should’ve been secure,” he told Today on Monday morning from Adelaide. “But my understanding is that people weren’t tested on a regular basis, and SA Health have now ordered all people working at the hotels be tested weekly. I‘m surprised this wasn’t happening before now.
“Our medi-hotels should be safe, and especially after the Victorian fiasco, where we saw the huge second wave occurring because of a breakdown in the systems in their quarantine hotels.
“One would’ve hoped all other states and territories would have much tighter security now.”
Farmers near South Australia’s border with Victoria who regularly travelled from one state to another were tediously forced to get tested weekly despite there being no traces of the virus in the region.
But staff working in proximity to the deadly virus at the medi-hotel facilities weren’t exposed to the same testing requirements.
SA Premier Steven Marshall admitted he initially held reservations about this policy.
“I did query that situation but I was provided with advice that what we were doing was based upon best practice at the time,” he told ABC Breakfast in Adelaide on Monday morning.
“Obviously you look at that in light of individual outbreaks but the feeling was that it was much better to rely on people who develop symptoms to get themselves tested immediately because if you had a regular weekly test people would say ‘I’ll just wait until then’.
“This is not something where you can wait a week to go and get tested and this is a really important reminder for every single South Australian.”
Prof Spurrier revealed on Monday morning she was worried about the state’s facilities being exposed to so many infections before the weekend’s outbreak.
“I’ve had concerns over the last couple of weeks, not because of our processes, but just because of the number of positive cases we’ve had in those medi-hotels,” she told the ABC.
“It just increases the risk of it getting out, and it obviously has in this instance.”