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New SA COVID plan: Dedicated quarantine facility, police guards, and overseas tests

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SA Health will transfer all coronavirus-infected people isolating in CBD medi-hotels to a designated, police-guarded quarantine facility, while overseas travellers will be required to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding flights to South Australia, under a new eight-point plan to install more “shields” between the quarantine system and community.

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It follows intense scrutiny of South Australia’s medi-hotel program, after a contracted security guard working at Peppers medi-hotel in Waymouth Street became infected with COVID-19 and passed the virus on to the community, triggering the Parafield cluster.

Yesterday, SA Health discovered that two positive cases initially thought to have been overseas-acquired infections were actually linked to an infectious staff member at Peppers Hotel where the couple was isolating.

Off the back of that revelation, chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier today reported “good news” of no new coronavirus cases.

The State Government has consistently claimed that South Australia’s medi-hotel system is at a “gold star” standard, even after the emergence of the Parafield cluster .

But it today conceded that more could be done to stop the coronavirus from seeping out of quarantine facilitates and into the general community.

“There is never zero risk with this virus, but what we must do is put as many shields as possible between the virus and the community here in South Australia,” Premier Steven Marshall said.

Under the State Government’s new plan, all coronavirus-infected people currently isolating in city medi-hotels would be transferred to a designated hospital-style quarantine facility, likely at the old Wakefield Hospital.

The site would be guarded exclusively by SA Police and protective security officers without the assistance of private security firms.

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said he had enough officers to monitor the quarantine facility, despite already allocating over 600 staff per day to COVID-19 duties.

“I’m not pretending that we’re not under pressure at the moment in terms of our resources,” he said.

“This is a significant diversion to what you call core policing activities (but) we are managing those from a priority basis.”

Staff at the site would be banned from working at medi-hotels or “high-risk environments”, such as aged-care facilities, prisons or hospitals.

But they could continue to work second jobs at other venues, such as pizza bars.

Marshall said the Government wanted to relocate positive coronavirus cases to the new facility “immediately”.

“At that old Wakefield Hospital there is a large capacity there, which can be flexed up to deal with surges,” he said.

But chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said health authorities were yet to fully assess the Wakefield Hospital site.

“We do have that facility available but we need to go in and make sure it’s fit for purpose,” she said.

“We obviously need to make sure that there’s beds, there’s staff and that we’ve got the kitchens sorted and there’s food and suchlike.

“Those things take some time, but… we’re very committed to make these steps.”

Marshall said he would also ask the national cabinet to consider mandatory COVID-19 testing for all overseas travellers before they fly to South Australia “with a view that they have negative test results before boarding”.

He said he had also discussed the “eight-point plan” with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) last week, but the State Government was prepared to act before federal authorities issued advice.

“We can’t wait – we want to do everything that we can,” he said.

“There is perfect precedent for South Australia leading the way with regards to the way we manage our medi-hotels and we’ll continue to do that.

“There is no resource which will be spared for the implementation of this plan.”

Meanwhile, Peppers medi-hotel will undergo a deep clean.

Marshall said once all eight actions had been implemented, the State Government would reconsider its current ban on international flights into Adelaide.

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said the changes were “absolutely the right thing to do”, telling reporters the Government “needs to get the balance right between repatriating Australian citizens, but also keeping our community safe from COVID”.

“It is a massive step in the right direction and I think it’s entirely consistent with keeping South Australians safe,” he said.

CCTV review finds “no significant breaches”

Peppers medi-hotel. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Authorities have completed an initial review of almost 500 hours of CCTV footage from Peppers medi-hotel to determine how the coronavirus spread from a UK traveller who was quarantining at the hotel to a worker.

Spurrier said senior communicable disease doctors had reviewed still photographs of the footage and confirmed that there were “no significant breaches identified” and “nobody was in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

“There was also absolutely no incidences of staff going into… the travellers’ rooms and certainly no inappropriate behaviour at all,” she said.

“All staff have worked in those hotels, really doing their absolute upmost and really working to a very high standard and for me that’s extremely reassuring.”

Spurrier said the review found that all hotel staff were wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), but Stevens said some private security guards had been disciplined for not complying with PPE protocols.

The review found that it was a security guard – not a cleaner – who was first infected with the virus.

Spurrier said authorities may never find out how the security guard became infected “because, of course, we’re reliant on going back to the history of looking at that footage”.

Doctors are now conducting a more thorough review to determine “subtle details”, such as whether a worker touched their mask and then a surface.

No new cases

There were no new coronavirus cases reported in South Australia today, with the number of cases linked to the Parafield cluster still at 29.

One case linked to the cluster – a woman aged in her 50s – is still in hospital in a stable condition.

There also 4300 people in quarantine, who are either close contacts of positive cases or contacts of those close contacts.

It comes after SA Health late yesterday afternoon revealed the infections of two recently returned overseas travellers are linked to the cluster.

The travellers arrived in Adelaide from Nepal on November 11 and are a husband and wife – both aged in their 20s  – who up until recently authorities believed had acquired the disease overseas.

Following further analysis, SA Health discovered the cases were actually linked to an infectious staff member at Peppers medi-hotel in Waymouth Street – the quarantine hotel where the couple had been isolating.

Their infections were revealed on Sunday and Tuesday.

There are currently 38 active coronavirus cases in South Australia.

Medi-hotel staff tested

Medi-hotel security guards will be tested weekly under new rules. Photo: David Mariuz/AAP

State emergency coordinator Grant Stevens has imposed new rules making it mandatory for workers in Adelaide’s quarantine hotels to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

It comes after authorities discovered two travellers at the Peppers Hotel who were initially thought to have been infected with COVID-19 while abroad actually caught the virus while in quarantine.

The new directions came into force at midnight and require police, SA Health officials, defence force personnel and all employees and contractors working in the quarantine hotels to be tested weekly.

The rule also includes all cleaning and security staff.

Any person working at a medi-hotel who develops COVID-19 symptoms must notify SA Health and further direction will be given in relation to self-isolation requirements.

People who deliver goods to the hotels through designated green zones, are present for less than 30 minutes and have no contact with people undertaking quarantine are exempt.

Spurrier said SA Pathology yesterday afternoon tested 75 staff at Peppers medi-hotel – about a third of its workforce – with all of those results coming back negative.

“There is absolutely no chance of anybody else being positive there at the moment,” she said.

If the remainder of the staff also test negative, Spurrier said she would be “very sure” that the guests would not have to restart their 14-days of mandatory quarantine.

Just over 9400 people were tested for COVID-19 yesterday.

Marshall defends Woodville Pizza worker remarks

The Spanish national who allegedly misled authorities about his involvement with the Woodville Pizza Bar coronavirus hotspot, sparking a statewide lockdown, yesterday released a statement through his lawyer.

He expressed remorse for triggering an “unnecessary” lockdown but claimed some of the information about him had been inaccurate and unfair.

Marshall previously claimed the man was “selfish” for “deliberately” lying about his work at a pizza bar.

Asked today if he “overstepped the mark” with those comments in light of the man’s statement, Marshall replied “no”.

“We know that we received false and misleading information,” he said.

“This person has expressed remorse – we’re grateful for that expression of remorse.

“We still have an investigation that is underway and I’m not going to pre-empt that investigation.”

Restrictions still set to be eased next Tuesday

Marshall is still hopeful that the Government will be able to lift a suite of restrictions next Tuesday, despite the growing Parafield cluster and hotel security concerns.

Restrictions likely to be eased on December 1 include bans on stand-up drinking, caps on private and public gatherings and venue capacity limits.

South Australia is also hoping to lift its border restrictions with Victoria next Tuesday.

“We are hopeful that if there is no spike in the number of cases that we are on track to go back to where we were prior to the Parafield cluster, which would be the density of one per two square-metres,” Marshall said.

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