The returned traveller at the centre of the Holiday Inn coronavirus cluster, which has sent Melbourne into a snap five-day lockdown, says he feels he has been treated ‘like a criminal’ following media reports into the outbreak, and insists he didn’t knowingly break the rules.

The Holiday Inn cluster stands at 13 cases. The current working theory is that the virus spread in the hotel after the unnamed man used a nebuliser device, which creates fine aerosol particles, infecting a food and beverage worker and another quarantined resident.

AMA Vice President Dr Chris Moy was dismayed that such a device was allowed into hotel quarantine in the first place, telling media:

“We should be extremely worried about these new strains which look as though they are much more infectious. It does appear there was a mistake in the hotel quarantine that a nebuliser was able to get through and somebody who was infected used the nebuliser … With these strains, we are really worried that you can’t put the lid on it once it gets out.”

Speaking to The Age, the returned traveller, who suffers from severe asthma, says he declared the device to Holiday Inn staff, and they even offered to source more Ventolin, the medication that it administers.

The man, his wife and their three-month-old baby have all tested positive to COVID since arriving in Australia from Europe. He is currently in intensive care, and he says that media reports have left him feeling the “brunt” of the backlash. He said:

“If I was told that I couldn’t use it, I never would have used it. The way it has all come out in the news and through the government has made it sound like I was using it illegally or that I have snuck it in or something like that. It’s been very distressing … You are left feeling like a criminal or that you’ve done the wrong thing. That has been the hardest thing in all this.”

A representative of COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria say that there was no formal mention of the nebuliser device in the man’s initial health screenings, and they were not aware of it until a formal case interview on Friday.

There are fears that a mutant strain of the virus may have escaped into the community, and Melbourne will remain on lockdown until 11.59pm Wednesday, as authorities scramble to assess and contain the situation.

Image: Getty Images / Diego Fedele