First international flight arrives, Melbourne’s hotel quarantine begins again

The first international passenger flight in two months has landed in Melbourne, marking the third official recommencement of the Victorian government’s hotel quarantine program.

Sri Lankan Airlines flight UL604 from Colombo touched down at 4.24am, with the first group of passengers bound for two weeks of quarantine at the Intercontinental Hotel on Collins Street in the CBD.

A SkyBus with a police escort leaves Melbourne Airport on Thursday morning.Credit:Nine News

Five flights carrying at least 76 passengers are scheduled to arrive on Thursday, according to a Melbourne Airport spokeswoman – although Victoria’s acting Police Minister Danny Pearson said he expected the number of passengers to be just over 100.

The first flight arrived from Colombo just before 4.30am with more expected at 9.50am, 3.55pm, 8.20pm and 9.50pm from Singapore, Doha, and Dubai.

While there are six hotels ready to accept returned passengers, those arriving this week will be housed at the Holiday Inn near Melbourne Airport and the Intercontinental on Collins Street.

A spokeswoman for COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria confirmed on Thursday that arrivals were being taken to the InterContinental Hotel.

“The flight landed on schedule and the arrivals are being brought on busses to the InterContinental Hotel as we speak,” she said.

The other hotels ready to be used are the Novotel Ibis at Melbourne Central, the Pan Pacific at the Convention Centre, the Holiday Inn at Flinders Lane – a health hotel reserved for COVID-positive travellers – and the Element Melbourne Richmond on Swan Street, which will function as a complex care facility.

Returning Australians are not told which of the six hotels they will be staying at until they arrive in Melbourne, according to passengers who have spoken to The Age.

The state’s hotel quarantine scheme was shut down for the second time in mid-February after a new strain of COVID-19 leaked from a quarantine hotel, forcing the government to halt overseas arrivals and leading to a five-day lockdown.

Victoria’s disastrous second wave of COVID-19 in 2020 was also the result of mistakes in hotel quarantine and resulted in the first suspension of the program.

COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria Commissioner Emma Cassar said the restarted program would be reviewed daily to ensure all the recommendations from the most recent review of the hotel quarantine scheme had been implemented.

“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.”

All staff working in hotel quarantine have received at least their first dose of the vaccine. Ms Cassar said those unwilling or unable to get vaccinated would be offered other roles within CQV, if possible.

Key features of the new hotel quarantine system

  • Residents to be tested four times during 14-day stay, instead of twice.
  • Staff in hotel “red zones” fit-tested with high-protection N95 masks.
  • Online system for easier contact tracing of hotel quarantine staff and their households.
  • Memorandum of understanding with the Department of Health to clarify roles and responsibilities in hotel quarantine.
  • Independent ventilation assessment undertaken at all of the state’s quarantine hotels.
  • Arrivals to be capped at 800 a week, scaling up to 1120 by April 15.
  • Staggered meal times, room buffers and enhanced screening of prohibited devices in returned travellers’ luggage.

Adult guests will be charged $3000 for the 14-day stay, while children will be charged $500. The fees have not been raised despite significant and costly modifications to the hotels.

Ms Cassar said some returned passengers who have not tested positive to COVID-19 could be given exemptions to temporarily leave hotel quarantine on compassionate grounds.

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