Reading Council Calls for Urgent Closure of Government-run Quarantine Facility in Reading
READING Borough Council has called for the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) run Quarantine Management Facility (QMF) in Reading to urgently close. It follows a significant outbreak at the DHSC facility in central Reading which has been linked to several positive cases of the ‘Delta’ variant which originated in India in the local community.
A cumulative total of 44 positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified among residents and staff at Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) quarantine facility in the Penta Hotel on the Oxford Road since it opened in late April. The majority are confirmed by Public Health England (PHE) as being the Delta variant. Positive cases have spread between guests and hotel and security staff based at the Government-run facility.
At this time, it is believed at least three cases in the community have been directly linked to the outbreak at the hotel. Contact tracing of known positive cases linked to the outbreak has been completed with subsequent action taken. Public Health England continue to monitor the local situation closely.
Four areas in Reading are now part of a local surge testing operation, including RG1 3**, which is where the Government operated quarantine hotel is located. However, it is important to note that local analysis of ‘Delta’ variant cases in Reading indicate more than one source of spread in the local community. Other surge testing areas in Reading are RG1 5**, RG1 6** and RG1 7** and a full list of sites and opening hours is available at www.reading.gov.uk/testnow
Reading Borough Council is clear that the spread of the variant both inside the hotel and, in several cases into the wider community, could have been avoided had the correct safety procedures been in place from when the hotel first opened.
The Reading quarantine facility was opened by the DHSC on Thursday April 29th. Public Health England, Reading Borough Council and the West Berks Director of Public Health were given just two days’ notice before DHSC opened the site and were given minimal information in the days that followed on how the hotel would be safely managed and operated.
Following the first notification to the Council of an outbreak among staff on Sunday May 9th, the Council’s Regulatory Services team inspected the quarantine hotel to assess the Covid safety protocols. By this time the outbreak had already spread to other guests, hotel staff and security workers, which has led to at least three infections in the local community.
A further visit by the Council’s Regulatory Services team on June 1st identified additional concerns. This, coupled with new cases identified in the last few days which show the outbreak is on-going, has led to the Council’s call for the hotel to cease operations as a quarantine hotel.
While Reading Borough Council has participated in a multi-agency effort to try to improve control measures at the DHSC-run facility, after six weeks of operation the Council remains unconvinced that the hotel outbreak is fully under control and that robust safety measures are in place in the hotel. As a result, on Monday June 7th the Council made representations to the DHSC that it should close its facility with immediate effect. DHSC has chosen to implement further control measures in the hotel, but it has stopped short of agreeing to the Council’s request at this time.
Councillor Jason Brock, Reading Borough Council Leader, said:
“The Council is clear that having seen the DHSC’s quarantine hotel in operation over a number of weeks, it does not have confidence that robust enough safety measures have been in place and that it needs to be shut down. This is despite the Council’s own Regulatory Services team visiting the facility and making a number of recommendations, both soon after the Council was informed of the first outbreak at the hotel, and more recently.
“We are extremely disappointed that the DHSC has refused the Council’s request to close at this time. We would go further and question the wisdom of locating a quarantine facility of this kind in the centre of a built-up town centre like Reading.
“Public health colleagues advise us that the outbreak of the ‘Delta’ variant at the hotel has already led to some instances of transmission in the local community and, while experts are very clear that there is more than one source of spread of the variant, the operation of this quarantine hotel cannot be allowed to continue under the current circumstances.”
Quarantine Facility in Reading
Government quarantine facilities in the country have been commissioned by DHSC as part of the Government’s quarantine regime in place for travellers returning from red list countries. Reading Borough Council strongly maintains local authorities should be closely involved from the outset in the planning of Government-commissioned quarantine hotels in their area. This would enable local councils and public health teams to input into management and safety protocols before any facility becomes operational and to offer guidance and support before issues arise. Before Reading Borough Council called on the DHSC to shut down its quarantine hotel earlier this week, the Council had already written to the DHSC on May 28th expressing its serious safety concerns about the operation and management of the Government-commissioned quarantine hotel and calling for an urgent review of Covid safety protocols at other Government-run traveller quarantine facilities across the country.