Devastated Brisbane hotel guests uprooted for extra quarantine
“Just the lack of information is so frustrating. Honestly, I’m watching the news to find out what might happen to me.”
Another person due to be released on Wednesday was Umair Ahsan. He took to social media to express his devastation that the “mental torture” would continue for another 14 days, despite twice testing negative during his stay.
In a later video update, Mr Ahsan said his friend had been waiting downstairs to pick him up at 12.30am when police broke the news to him.
“Obviously very devastated … everything was packed up and ready to go,” he said.
Geoff Crooks had spent 14 days at the Hotel Grand Chancellor after returning from the United States and had planned to attend Thursday’s funeral for his brother, who died while Geoff was in quarantine. Instead, he got a knock on his hotel room door at 11pm on Tuesday night from two police officers.
“We’re very, very angry,” he said. “I’ve had four negative tests in 25 days. How many times do I need to test negative before they accept I’m negative?”
Ambulances snaked along the hotel’s Spring Hill street throughout the morning, taking some of the group in full PPE to the Westin Hotel in Brisbane’s CBD under police escort on Wednesday afternoon.
Once they were ushered through the lobby and up into the hotel, staff clad in protective equipment could be seen wiping down surfaces along their path.
Police on the scene directed traffic and pedestrians along the hotel’s busy Mary Street frontage, with a number of Australian Defence Force personnel also on site.
A loading area next to the hotel, which has been used as a quarantine site throughout the pandemic, appeared to operate as a cleaning point for ambulances before they left.
A number of Grand Chancellor guests shared progress of the transfer on Facebook throughout the afternoon, with one on the 11th floor told the third level was still being worked through about 3pm.
Another had been told their move may not happen until Thursday but to “be packed and prepare for a long night”.
The urgent move came as health authorities scrambled to determine how the more contagious UK variant was able to spread to six people connected to the Hotel Grand Chancellor – confirmed by genomic sequencing results at 10.30pm on Tuesday.
Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has complimented hotel management for their co-operation and stressed there was no evidence anything had been done wrong.
Dr Young said an investigation would help understand the link between the six cases, with the safety of guests and staff the “key priority” behind the cautionary transfer.
Only two people – a cleaner and her partner – have been in the community while infectious, while two other pairs had stayed on the same floor of the hotel at different times and in separate rooms, sparking calls from Ms Palaszczuk for an overhaul of Australia’s quarantine system.
Along with those at the hotel when the transfer decision was made, who will not have the pay for their extended stays, 250 people who had quarantined there since December 30 were also set to get tested and return to quarantine.
A total of 226 people who had worked at the hotel since then would also be directed into quarantine and required to undertake a test.
With Toby Crockford
Matt Dennien is a reporter with Brisbane Times.
Stuart Layt covers health, science and technology for the Brisbane Times. He was formerly the Queensland political reporter for AAP.