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Hundreds more at risk from COVID-19 cluster at inner-city hotel

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Genomic sequencing has linked six cases of the more contagious UK strain of COVID-19 to Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor, sparking moves to ensure hundreds more Queenslanders go into quarantine.

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Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young today revealed a previously unknown link between a man who arrived from the UK on December 30, his partner, a cleaner and her partner, and two people who subsequently arrived from Lebanon.

Their virus is the same, and may have been spread on the seventh floor of the Hotel Grand Chancellor, which was being used for quarantine but is now being shut down.

“Those six have essentially the same genome sequence so we know they are linked, but we don’t know how they are linked,” Young said.

After the genomic sequencing results came back at 10.30pm on Tuesday, health officials worked through the night to develop a response plan. About 129 people in the hotel under quarantine are being moved to other city hotels – and forced to restart their 14-day stay unless an investigation finds they would not have been placed at any additional risk.

“I think the safest thing to do is to move all of the guests out of that hotel to other hotels immediately,” Young said.

“That has now started and will happen today.”

While some staff had already been put into isolation due to the cleaner’s infection, all other staff and visitors to the hotel since December 30 will also be put into quarantine and tested. That will be more than 226 people in total, including police, health officers, maritime workers, and Australian Defence Force personnel.

The National Incident Room has been asked to alert anyone who has since travelled interstate or overseas, and Young was due to brief other health officials this morning. It comes amid growing concerns over the strength of hotel quarantine arrangements and whether weak links could put Australia at risk.

Young said she was concerned the Hotel Grand Chancellor cluster could still be growing without new cases being detected.

“Today, please, anyone in Queensland with any symptoms at all, please, immediately come forward and get tested,” she said.

The UK variant is considered more contagious than other strains of COVID-19, and an investigation has been launched into how it may have spread from the first case to the cleaner and beyond. Cleaners are required to wear masks, gloves and gowns while working in quarantine hotels.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said anyone with evidence as to how the virus may have spread at the hotel should contact police, noting that the investigation had yet to uncover any quarantine breaches or concerning actions. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speculated that the virus could have been spread through the airconditioning.

Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said there were no CCTV cameras on the seventh floor of the hotel so other inquiries were being made. The hotel had been taking returned travellers since the end of September.

The infected cleaner and her husband have already been found to have had more than 400 potential contacts, the bulk of those test results now back and negative.

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