“It’s a hotel of torture”: inside the Park Hotel epidemic

Ahmad Zahir Azizi has had a continuous headache since 2015. His doctor tells him it is caused by the stress and trauma of years of migrant detention. But in early October, the headache and accompanying symptoms were different.

“I was very cold,” said the 35-year-old Afghan refugee. “I have headaches, chest pain. I feel like I can’t walk.

Inside the Park Hotel, an alternative place of detention (APOD) on the edge of Melbourne’s central business district, Azizi requested to see a nurse. The nurse told him that he did not need to be tested for Covid-19 or to self-isolate.

Over the next few days, his health deteriorated. On October 17, Azizi woke up lying on the shower floor. He had passed out and didn’t know how long he had been unconscious. “I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

A friend called for an ambulance. At around noon, paramedics arrived and recommended that he be tested for Covid-19. Serco’s guards transferred Azizi to a room on the first floor of the hotel to quarantine her. Two days later, her test came back positive.

Over the next few days, a cluster of Covid-19 cases inside the hotel continued to grow. The people here are largely refugees but will not be granted asylum because they arrived by boat. Many have underlying health issues and have been moved to Australia under the now repealed medical evacuation legislation. They are held as prisoners.

“Everyone is tired, mentally and physically. We are very scared, ”said one inmate Saturday newspaper as and when the business is chained. “I really want to open a window, but I can’t… We’re not safe in this place.”

By the end of October, nearly half of the 46 detainees, many of whom were unvaccinated and immunocompromised, had tested positive for the virus.

“I was really worried,” says Azizi. “The Park Hotel is not safe. Park Hotel is dangerous.

Last year the Park Hotel was called Rydges. In early 2020, as part of Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, Rydges was found responsible for an outbreak that sparked Victoria’s second wave.

This outbreak has plunged Melbourne into its longest lockdown, spreading throughout the community, including several elderly care facilities, killing hundreds.

A six-month investigation into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program found that “around 90% of Covid-19 cases in Victoria since the end of May 2020 were attributable to the Rydges outbreak”.

The investigation report was scathing. He found that “insufficient attention has been paid to infection prevention and control standards throughout the program and, in particular, in this location.”

The investigation found evidence of poor cleaning practices at Rydges, improper use of personal protective equipment and a lack of training for staff working at the facility.

“There were consistent themes in the evidence and information provided to the survey on concerns about issues such as: access to fresh air; access to good quality food; the cleanliness of the installation, ”the report states.

The investigation extensively documented issues with quarantining Covid-19 patients in hotel rooms that do not have access to natural ventilation. None of the hotel rooms have windows that open.

Shortly after Victoria’s Second Wave, Rydges was removed from the Victorian hotel quarantine program and put on the market. Development group Pelligra acquired the hotel for a reduced market price of around $ 35 million. The announced plan was to “give the property a complete makeover and a fresh start as Crowne Plaza Melbourne Carlton”.

But in December, the same week the final investigation report documenting the risks associated with Rydges was released, 60 asylum seekers were forcibly transferred to the hotel under heavy police surveillance. The protesters set up a camp across the road. Chalk messages calling for the release of the men lined the sidewalk in front of the building. Above, the old Rydges sign was hidden by sheets of black plastic.

After such a damning report, why has this hotel been used again to detain Covid-19 patients? And has the federal government heeded the body of evidence and recommendations of the Victorian Inquiry in this context?

According to Park Hotel inmates, basic things such as fresh food, fresh air, clean clothes and medicine were not made available to them during their isolation with Covid-19. An inmate says he saw trash cans in the hotel hallways overflowing with medical waste. Another says he waited over six hours for a dose of Panadol.

Azizi says he hasn’t seen a doctor for two weeks. Saturday newspaper spoke to two men at the hotel who called ambulances who they said never came to treat them.

“The hotel is a Covid crime scene that should be closed,” refugee lawyer Ian Rintoul said. “Two years ago they were transferred from Nauru and PNG for medical treatment, but instead they were subjected to medical negligence and exposed to Covid.”

Home Secretary Karen Andrews and the Australian Border Force (ABF) did not respond to questions from Saturday newspaper concerning the epidemic. The border force highlighted a statement that “standard departmental protocols are followed with respect to a positive diagnosis, including contact tracing, quarantine, testing and cleaning.”

Saturday newspaper was informed that the Victoria Minister of Health’s office has contacted the Home Secretary’s office with concerns about the outbreak and protocols. They raised concerns about Covid safety plans, the proper use of personal protective equipment, and the measures and plans they had in place to further mitigate transmission. They didn’t get an answer either.

Several infection control and public health experts say there is good cause for concern, suggesting that the same mistakes that happened at Rydges last year may have been repeated during the recent outbreak.

“No hotel in Australia is really designed as a quarantine facility,” says Geoff Hanmer, assistant professor of architecture at the University of Adelaide.

When asked why the ABF could have used the old quarantine hotel to hold Covid-19 positive inmates, he suggested that “inertia and some stupidity might be an explanation.”

“At the Park Hotel, in particular, it’s mechanically ventilated, but it’s a fairly old hotel. And so exactly what standard it conforms to is a little uncertain, ”he said.

“Once Covid has broken out in an establishment, it is prudent to remove people from the establishment and take them to open-air accommodation. And unless it was your plan to infect these people, then you would. I see no excuse for the government not to be more active in protecting the refugees accommodated at the Park Hotel. I think they owe a duty of care to these people, and they let them down.

After reviewing authorities’ responses to the treatment of a coronavirus-positive detainee at the Park Hotel, epidemiologist Adrian Esterman said he was convinced detainees were not safe from Covid-19 in the ‘hotel.

“We know how to handle it when you get sick, infected people in a quarantine hotel,” Esterman says. “But these procedures just weren’t followed for inmates, and the real question is, why weren’t they?

Since the outbreak, Azizi and three other men have been released from the Park Hotel on a six-month transitional visa. For three weeks, the government provided Azizi with housing in West Melbourne. Afterwards, he’s all alone.

Azizi had been detained by Australian immigration for over eight years and still accepts the fact that he is free. “I can’t believe it, really,” he said. “I can not believe it.”

While he’s incredibly happy to be released, it’s bittersweet. “I’m sad for my friends who are still at the Park Hotel, who are still at MITA [Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation], which are still in BITA [Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation]. “

About 81 refugees and asylum seekers who have been moved from offshore detention for medical treatment remain in detention centers across Australia.

“They are not criminals, they are family members,” says Azizi. “Please, enough is enough; let them out.

At Carlton’s Park Hotel, around 40 refugees are staying in hotel rooms. Some are still recovering from Covid-19 and others are afraid of catching it. But Covid-19 is just one of the many health risks these men face.

“Why are they keeping me here? One of the detainees asks from his hotel room. “We are all mentally ill, we are all physically ill every day. It is a hotel that kills. It’s a torture hotel.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 27, 2021 under the headline “‘This is a hotel of torture’: inside the Park Hotel outbreak”.

A free press is a paid press. In the short term, the economic fallout from the coronavirus has taken about a third of our income. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Source link

Comments are closed.