Guard working at Brisbane hotel housing refugees and asylum seekers tests positive for COVID-19

A guard at a makeshift refugee centre in Brisbane has tested positive to coronavirus, potentially exposing detainees to infection.

Kangaroo Point Central Hotel and Apartments.

Kangaroo Point Central Hotel and Apartments. Source: SBS News/Stefan Armbruster

A Serco employee guarding refugee and asylum seekers being held at a Brisbane has tested positive for COVID-19.

Several sources told SBS News that the guard was working at the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel and Apartments - which is being used by the Department of Home Affairs as an Alternative Place of Detention (APOD) for about 80 people.

APODs are used to accommodate refugees and asylum seekers considered low risk, including those requiring medical treatment. The facilities are kept under 24-hour guard.

Detainees at the hotel were told on Wednesday night that a guard had tested positive and had not worked since 7 March.

In an audio recording provided to SBS News, a woman, who identified herself as Jo, told the detainees via a translator that: “the Department of Home Affairs was made aware on Wednesday 18 of March that a Serco staff member - working here at Kangaroo Point - had tested positive for COVID-19.”

“Serco are working with Queensland Health to confirm these reports,” she said.

“The department is committed to the health and safety of your visitors and staff that are in our facilities.

“There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the immigration network.”

The woman reading the statement said detainees would be provided with an update on Thursday.

“We found out information this afternoon so we wanted to make sure everyone knows today, there’s no need to panic. Once we get more information tomorrow we’ll share that with you,” she said on Wednesday's recording.

“If you feel unwell please see one of the Serco officers.”

Serco also provides security at the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation (BITA) at Brisbane airport where refugees and asylum seekers are also detained.

One detainee at the Kangaroo Point hotel posted their fears after the announcement.

“After the officer got positive virus everyone is scared here," the detainee posted on social media.

"In Brisbane Kangaroo Point Hotel this morning no one went to BITA for exercise, everyone is scared here."

Australian Border Force said the guard's last shift at the hotel was on 7 March and no refugees have so far tested positive to COVID-19.

"Plans have been established to manage any suspected cases of COVID-19," ABF said in a statement.

"Detainees will be isolated and tested in line with advice from the Department of Health and the broader Commonwealth response

The Department of Home Affairs in a statement confirmed “a detention service provider staff member employed in Brisbane has tested positive to COVID-19”.

“There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among detainees in Brisbane.

“The Department and its service providers are working with and on the advice of Queensland health officials and will undertake any contact tracing they identify as necessary.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, only people who have recently travelled from overseas or have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case and experienced symptoms within 14 days are advised to be tested.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor, don’t visit, or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. 

Additional reporting by AAP

Published 19 March 2020 at 2:52pm, updated 19 March 2020 at 4:00pm
By Stefan Armbruster