Victoria’s hotel quarantine program will resume in two weeks, with stricter protocols in place to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t leak into the community.
Acting Premier James Merlino on Thursday announced international passenger flights would be able to touch down in the state again from April 8.
Arrivals will be capped at 800 a week, scaling up to 1120 a week, subject to capacity and the completion of ventilation works.
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International passenger flights have not arrived in Melbourne since February 13 after hotel quarantine workers contracted the highly infectious UK strain of the virus from returned travellers at the Holiday Inn near Melbourne Airport.
The outbreak, which grew to 24 cases, triggered the state’s five-day, circuit-breaker lockdown.
The state’s second wave of coronavirus, which last year resulted in more than 18,000 new infections, 800 deaths and an 112-day lockdown, also leaked from hotel quarantine.
The latest outbreak led to the commissioning of reviews into variant strains of COVID-19 and ventilation at the state’s quarantine hotels, which were released by the government on Thursday.
“We’ve listened to the advice of experts and made the necessary changes to ensure we’re keeping Victorians safe,” Mr Merlino said in a statement.
The ventilation review by Safer Care Victoria found hotel quarantine staff were well trained in how to use personal protective equipment and were comfortable challenging each other over non-compliance and safety.
But it called for an “infection prevention and control uplift”, including increased use of N95 masks, strengthened end-of-shift procedures and a new online system for easier contact mapping of staff and their households.
Independent ventilation assessments have also been ordered at all quarantine hotels, with some requiring building upgrade works. Others will need to reduce room capacity for family groups.
Testing of returned travellers will be boosted from two to four times during their quarantine period, with follow-up tests recommended.
Other measures, including staggered meal times, room buffers and enhanced screening of prohibited devices, were introduced following February’s outbreak.
The variants of concern review, led by Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng, concluded that vaccination of hotel quarantine staff would be the most effective measure in preventing the spread of the virus.
Mr Merlino said more than 4150 frontline quarantine workers had had their first jab, with the rollout of the second dose underway.
The review recommends the government consider three options for future quarantine arrangements: a strengthened hotel model, a hybrid model of hotel and other types of accommodation, or purpose-built facilities such as Howard Springs in the Northern Territory.
It also recommends a permanent system be put in place to ensure “safe, effective quarantine can be provided into the future, even if the need to quarantine for COVID-19 ceases”.
The government is forging ahead with plans to build a purpose-built quarantine facility outside the city but it will take a minimum of six months before it will be available for use.
The facility is likely to be single-storey, self-contained accommodation for a range of family sizes, with separate ventilation systems, easily cleanable surfaces and separate staff facilities.
It will initially take about 250 people a week.
Premier Daniel Andrews previously flagged the government could use the facility for future pandemics or emergency situations such as bushfires.
It comes as Victoria recorded its 27th consecutive day with no local coronavirus cases after 15,446 tests.
© AAP 2021