The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, insists there is no need to change the state’s hotel quarantine regime after a security guard contracted Covid-19 while working at the Marriott hotel in Sydney, saying it was a “miracle” there had not been other cases of staff guarding returned travellers contracting the virus.
On Tuesday, the NSW chief medical officer, Dr Kerry Chant, confirmed that a private security guard who worked shifts at a hotel for returned overseas travellers had “most likely” contracted Covid-19 from a traveller from the US.
The security guard had subsequently worked at the Parramatta local court and the Flemington Market in western Sydney while infectious.
But on Wednesday, Berejiklian insisted there was no need for changes to the hotel quarantine system, dismissing calls from the state’s Labor shadow health minister, Ryan Park, who said measures should be taken to stop guards working across various locations.
“It’s actually been a miracle that we haven’t had anyone contract the virus in that setting before now,” she said.
“If you continue that logic [that security guards should not work across venues] what you’re saying is that if you work in a high-risk activity … a police officer or someone working in hotel quarantine, that you shouldn’t be doing anything else because you could spread the virus at your local supermarket. Employment or not employment isn’t the issue.”
Contract tracers believe the guard may have caught the virus from one of two returned travellers staying at the Marriott, and Chant said NSW Health was investigating whether there had been any “overlap” between the guard and the overseas returnees.
The security guard had worked on the same floor as the two overseas travellers, but after NSW police reviewed CCTV footage of the hotel Berejiklian said there was “no evidence” the guard “did the wrong thing at all”.
“They did the right thing at all stages,” she said. “We have to accept that there are jobs now in the community that are higher risk, and that’s a reality.
“But you also can’t say to somebody if you work in a particular environment you can’t go to a restaurant, you can’t go shopping, all those things, whether you are working or going to any other venues that is a risk.”
She said she “wouldn’t assume” there had been a breakdown in the process, and that it would be “improper” for the government to make changes to its hotel quarantine regime based on “one case or based on one set of circumstances”.
“We are doing well in NSW and I’m not going to risk that by changing that based on perceived concerns,” she said.
Prof Marylouise McLaws, an infection prevention expert from the University of NSW, on Tuesday said the state government should consider replacing security guards with trained health professionals or pairing them with nurses. “Nurses are not trained to be security officers but they are trained in infection prevention and control,” she told Guardian Australia.
Berejiklian said NSW had processed 47,000 returnees since hotel quarantine was introduced and was “bearing the load” for the rest of Australia after Melbourne stopped accepting returned travellers in July.
“Can I please ask everyone to put this into perspective. We’ve had 47,000 people come through quarantine, we’ve had day in and day out many staff, police officers, security officers, health officers, transport workers, we’ve had a myriad, thousands of workers involved in this process. The fact that this is the first case, of course is a concern, but it also means we have to approach this in a local way.”
There were seven cases confirmed in NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday from more than 19,400 tests, with two in travellers in hotel quarantine.
Another case was confirmed after 8pm in a patient who attended Liverpool Hospital, with staff on the patient’s ward to be tested and close contacts ordered to self-isolate.
Eight patients in NSW are in intensive care, with five ventilated.