The nationwide introduction of a ten-day hotel quarantine for incoming travellers could end up accelerating the spread of new mutations of the coronavirus, according to the doctor that invented a new ventilator to treat COVID-19 patients.
The new rules will see some travellers coming to England having to isolate in hotels amid concerns about several new Covid variants.
However, Dr Rhys Thomas, chief medical and scientific officer at PP-L says that the standard design of hotel ventilation systems could actually accelerate the spread of the virus around the building, should an infected person be present.
“While the concept that new arrivals from high-risk areas should be quarantined is sound, the problem with them being in hotels is that many of such premises have common heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that recirculate or share air between rooms.
“If hotels are going to be a holding place for potentially infected travellers or even those with new strains and variants, then many buildings are simply not designed or fully equipped to deal with these sorts of airborne virus. These locations will find themselves having to deal with these new pathogens with extremely high transmissibility of the type from Brazil, South Africa and other new variants as they occur.
“Far from keeping the virus under control, this action could lead to superspreading of new variants if the airborne virus is drawn through the ducts and distributed into other rooms, or common spaces such as corridors or reception areas.
“Healthy travellers or staff could be unwittingly infected by people who are located many rooms away, and as a result could be at risk of becoming seriously ill or worse by following the requirements and through no fault of their own.
“We need these hotels to be containment centres, not multiplication centres. If they get this wrong, and don’t get the ventilation systems right, the government risks turning them into ‘Covid hotbeds’.”
Dr Thomas – who invented one of the only two devices to have succeeded in the Government’s Covid Emergency Ventilator Challenge and wrote an open letter to the government about its handling of the virus in October 2020 – believes that while the long-standing advice around social distancing has helped slow the spread of the virus through contact, it hasn’t mitigated well enough against the airborne threat it poses.
Dr Thomas said: “At its core, the government’s ‘COVID-secure’ guidance was derived from measures to prevent the spread of a pandemic with flu-like symptoms.
“As a result, the guidance sets out several steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through contact with contaminated surfaces, but, when first announced, did not go far enough to prevent the person-to-person and trans-airborne respiratory transmission, which is the primary means by which COVID-19 is spread.
“With more being known about COVID-19 through extensive scientific research, it has become more and more apparent that this shortcoming must be urgently rectified in order to control the virus.
“92% of the spread of this virus is through droplet or airborne transmission, so the government and others needs to be looking at technologies that prevent this infection route as much as possible.
“It is an airborne hazard, and so we need to target air quality.
“Regulators are at last starting to act on the importance of fresh air ventilation; air flow rate; frowning upon recirculated shared air systems; supporting HEPA filtration and safe ultraviolet techniques in recent weeks. Hotel ventilation systems can be readily re-engineered to provide such “Covid-secure air” and so, safely accommodate quarantined or other visitors, if the due diligence and necessary risk mitigations are identified at the outset.
“Introducing a stronger focus on technologies such as UV-C, which has been demonstrated in multiple studies to be a highly effective measure to significantly reduce respiratory transmission, will ensure that we can live with the virus into the future.
“Engineering interventions to create Covid-secure air, better hygiene, following latest guidance, and vaccines can all, as part of the mix, help us to reduce the need for these terribly damaging lockdown cycles having to be repeated in the future.
“Installing UV-C safely in HVAC duct systems or high up on walls as upper room emitters has proved to be very effective in rapidly inactivating and destroying airborne bacteria, and coronaviruses, including COVID-19.
“This technology has been used for over a century as a means of destroying harmful pathogens, and its effectiveness has been proven to destroy pathogens and much more complex bacteria and viruses than this latest coronavirus.”
PP-L Health Technology Solutions specialises in the design, specification and provision of scientifically proven systems and technologies to reduce the transmission of harmful bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19.
If you would like any additional information about UV-C air disinfection technology or to speak to a member of our team, please contact us.