Distressed Australians quarantining at Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor have been left in the lurch after they were told by a “vague” letter in their breakfast pack that they face another 14 days locked up.
The impersonal measure, slammed as “disgraceful”, “distressing” and “anxiety inducing” by those inside, comes as authorities race to contain any potential spread of a highly infectious strain of COVID-19.
Cases of SARS-CoV-2 B117 – said to be up to 70 per cent more contagious than previous variants – spread from a returned traveller from the UK in quarantine at the Grand Chancellor to his partner, before infecting a hotel cleaner and her partner. Authorities have since confirmed two further people quarantining inside the same hotel contracted the same strain.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters on Wednesday morning that as a result of the six cases now being linked in a “cluster”, the 129 people currently quarantining in the Spring Hill facility would be tested and “remain in quarantine” for another 14 days, or until a link is found.
In addition, 250 discharged travellers and 226 staff who were at the hotel since December 30 are being tracked down and forced into quarantine.
Paul Atta was due for release on Friday after returning home from Canada on January 1, but despite having returned five negative COVID-19 tests in the past month, now faces another two weeks inside.
“It’s a total disgrace that we have done everything right … not complained the whole time, kept positive because we thought we were doing the right thing and then this over-reaction,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“I just don’t understand … They have no idea how much they are affecting our lives. The poor kids in the hotel must be beside themselves.”
In the letter distributed to all guests at breakfast, Queensland Health said the health and safety of those staying in the facility was “their number one priority.”
“Until Queensland Health can identify the cause and source of the transmission, we cannot allow you to leave … as planned. This is for your own safety as well as that of the community,” the letter said.
“We thank you for your patience.”
Mother-of-two Alice Smallman-Walsh was on day twelve of quarantine with her two children, and was looking forward to leaving on Friday to help set her family up for their new life in Queensland after leaving the United Kingdom.
She said she and her children were “absolutely devastated” by the news.
“We’ve been staying quite positive until now. This morning I was just thinking two more days and then we’re out,” she said.
“This is a whole other level. They told us not to panic, not to worry but of course we panic and worry.
“We are all devastated … All our plans have been ruined.”
She said she understood there was a huge operation at hand to keep the community safe, but said it was disappointing Queensland Health and the hotel were not properly communicating with those affected.
“They have told us nothing,” she said.
Jamie Large was also due to be released from quarantine on Friday, having returned from the UK on New Year’s Day. He had already tested negative twice.
“I was so keen to leave, the end was in sight. And then I got a note in our breakfast pack telling me to pack my stuff to go to a new hotel,” he told NCA NewsWire.
“I heard more on the news than I have from the hotel … I called the reception and they put me onto Queensland Health, nobody could give me any answers.
“I’m just feeling a bit left in the dark. I’m feeling a bit anxious. I woke up so happy and then got this note and thought ‘what the hell’.
“Everything is so vague. I don’t know if I have to do another 14 days or what … Surely they can’t make me stay another 14 days if my tests were negative.”