Push for public servants to patrol quarantine hotels
Queensland's top civil liberties watchdog has demanded Queensland Health put staff on the ground in quarantine hotels after disturbing details emerged of guests being stuck in their rooms for whole days at a time as hotel management and police blamed each other for the system breaking down.
Queensland Council of Civil Liberties Vice President Terry O'Gorman has written to Queensland Health Director-General Dr John Wakefield demanding health officials be put into the hotels for the sake of guests and also that those struggling with the confinement be given in-person counselling.
He has forwarded Dr Wakefield The Courier-Mail story from Saturday about quarantined Nicole Mandemaker whose isolation diary lifted the lid on conditions inside.
Mr O'Gorman said he had also received calls from mandatory quarantiners who remained inside hotels and were in a desperate mental state but were too frightened to go public for fear of retribution.
"Those people who are in hotel quarantine who cannot handle the confinement to a hotel room should be able to access in person counselling to deal with stress and anxiety," Mr O'Gorman writes in the letter.
"Secondly, Queensland Health should have a person actually located 'on the ground' in relation to all hotels that are being used for quarantine purposes to ensure that the buck passing as referred to in the enclosed article between hotel management and the police in relation to inadequate time periods for people being allowed to get some fresh air can be addressed.
"I would appreciate hearing from you in relation to these issues."
Mr O'Gorman said the problem was far wider than any one hotel, with guests in hotels in different parts of southeast Queensland making similar disturbing complaints.
"The structural changes we are calling for, counsellors on the ground, and Queensland Health representatives on the ground to talk to people in their rooms to ensure they are getting sufficient time is not a big ask when you look at the ask of people to spend two weeks in quarantine, at their cost," Mr O'Gorman said.
"Some people handle this sort of think all right, others handle it very badly.
"There has to be some structural change.
"They aren't radical but they are a necessary balance to the equation if hotel quarantine is going to continue for some time.
"There is a systemic problem.
"Under the overall Public Health Act, prior to COVID, when a person was required to be quarantined or otherwise regulated for a public health disease order, there was an ability to go to the Magistrates Court to seek recourse and some degree of supervision.
"They've taken that away, you can understand them taking it away in the urgency of March and April but five months later there's got to be some independent recourse to the courts.
"If people are being asked to surrender major civil liberties of freedom and movement, and it's not to be forgotten it is a major civil liberty that is being surrendered, then corrective and ameliorative measures must be put in place. It's not asking for favours. It's simply the other side of the equation of being required to give up a major civil liberty."
The Courier-Mail asked Queensland Health last week who chooses which hotels are used for quarantine, what checks are done on guest welfare and whether the quarantine system was working in terms of guest welfare.
They didn't answer, instead passing the questions to Queensland Police for response.
"The Queensland Police Service (QPS) and Queensland Health continue to work together with hotel management and other support agencies to ensure everyone undergoing hotel quarantine is provided with suitable accommodation," police said in a statement.
"Considerable efforts are being undertaken to ensure quarantine facilities meet the dietary and other special requirements of their guests.
"We understand the quarantine process may be difficult for some people and the State Government has made health and support services available at each hotel.
"It is up to each individual hotel to determine whether their business participates in the hotel-quarantine process."
Queensland Health were approached on Tuesday afternoon for a response to the demands from the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties.
They have yet to provide one.
Management for Next Hotel, where Ms Mandemaker spent her quarantine, were approached but declined to comment.
Next Hotel said in a statement last week they "were wholeheartedly committed to supporting the fight in the spread of coronavirus by offering accommodation to quarantine guests.
"During this time, Next Hotel Brisbane was focused primarily on making our guests as comfortable as possible during their 14-day quarantine period.
"Queensland Health and the Queensland Police Service are solely responsible for mental health needs of quarantine guests and Next Hotel Brisbane deferred all mental health matters to both Queensland Health and the Queensland Police Service.
"As of August 28, Next Hotel Brisbane has stopped accepting new quarantine arrivals."
Originally published as Push for public servants to patrol quarantine hotels