Locals play down risk of hotel quarantine

By Rhonda Dredge

Convention Centre Place at South Wharf has become an epicentre in the ongoing fight to prevent the coronavirus (COVID-19) from once again breaking out into the community.

When the first international flights arrived at Tullamarine on the morning of December 7, at least three SkyBuses were destined for South Wharf.

By noon two buses had offloaded around 30 returning nationals to the Pan Pacific Hotel and a third was parked outside the Novotel.

Police and Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel blocked off sections of Convention Centre Place to escort passengers into these quarantine hotels, redirecting shoppers from DFO using the pedestrian crossing to the car park.

With around 170 ADF officers expected to monitor the area as part of the new hotel quarantine program, the Novotel is one of two hotels in the city designated to accommodate those with symptoms.

On October 1, Victoria Police took over the security of the hotel after The Age reported a breach in the security.

When the proprietor of the Urban Hub Foodstore opposite arrived to open his shop he found 30 police cars on his doorstep.

Since then the precinct has settled into an uneasy peace and locals are taking the latest developments in their strides, hoping that the resumption of flights will bring in much-needed business.

“We’re used to it,” a worker at the Urban Hub said about the latest drama. “It’s been that way for many months.”

James Thass, a worker at Timberland in DFO, said he had been feeling safe since police took over the security of the hotel.

“People listen to police, not security guards,” he said in relation to an incident back between lockdowns when people in quarantine came into DFO for some “retail therapy”.

“They had a chat [with sales staff]. They said they’d just come from the hotel. They’d come to browse. That was during the period Daniel Andrews said retail was still open. The place was a ghost town.”

James has worked through the various stages of lockdown, from being open to having to drive in by car and enter through one entrance on level two.

“Between April and June we were open in small periods,” he said. “That’s when all the stuff happened. In the second lockdown we had to sign in.”

Taxi driver Alusine Bundu was at the airport on the morning the first international flights arrived. He got there at 4am and had to wait until 9am before he got a fare.

“There was not much happening at the airport,” he said. “This was my first job from the airport in four months.”

He said his income has dropped by 95 per cent since the pandemic hit, with rides by country people from Southern Cross Station to Melbourne hospitals keeping him going.

The local economy depends on tourists, traders say, and they are playing down the risk of hotel quarantine.

“Many people [customers] are tourists and they might not know where the hot spots are,” Mr Thass said.

Meanwhile, it’s expected that neighbouring Southbank hotels at Crown Casino will act as a quarantine hub for Australian Open tennis players in the new year, with The Age reporting the news in November.

It’s understood that negotiations between Tennis Australia and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will see Crown – most likely Promenade and not Towers – as one of two or three hotels used to house tennis players •

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