The extent of Victoria’s catastrophic hotel quarantine scheme has been revealed, after it was confirmed returned travellers accounted for more than 99% of the state’s COVID-19 cases.
The inquiry into the bungled hotel quarantine program in Melbourne heard evidence from the Doherty Institute’s Ben Howden, who explained that its genomic sequencing data showed “these transmission networks could be collapsed into a single cluster for reporting purposes … All these transmission networks, the original cluster is the initial importation. All subsequent clusters within these networks are derived from that original cluster”.
The inquiry also heard security guards did not receive adequate training and there was no proper chain of command in place.
Meanwhile, Four Corners last night aired its damning investigation into the Victorian Government’s hotel quarantine program:
This report confirmed that NSW chose the police to run its hotel quarantine program, whereas Victoria chose private security firms:
STEPHANIE MARCH: In this war against the virus, the Federal Government offered the help of the defence force but it was up to each state and territory to decide who would run their hotel quarantine program. The NSW government put the police in charge.
COMMISSIONER MICK FULLER, NSW POLICE: We’re not getting the sort of compliance that I feel we need and that’s why its important tonight we really switch over to a much more controlled police style operation and again I acknowledge some people won’t be happy with that but I truly believe this will bring an end to this much, much quicker than just relying on individuals.
STEPHANIE MARCH: In Victoria, several government departments were responsible for the hotel quarantine program but its not clear who was in charge. Private security companies were hired to guard the hotels.
TIM KENNEDY, UNITED WORKERS UNION NATIONAL SECRETARY: My personal view of why it was contracted out, is because it was cheaper. They engaged these big national companies to provide private security and they allowed these big national companies then to subcontract out. Because you have got to remember, the entire cost of security is people. Workers who actually have to physically stand there and make certain that the, that the facility is secure. And so any way that these big companies can maximize their profit they will…
PROF. EMMANUEL JOSSERAND, UTS CENTRE FOR BUSINESS AND SOCIAL INNOVATION DIRECTOR: What’s actually quite disconcerting, is that the Department of Justice of Victoria had launched a review of the security industry, and they started to really look into it quite thoroughly. What’s really terrible is that the signs were there, and that should have been addressed not only by the Andrew Government, but all the states’ government and the federal government probably before that.
STEPHANIE MARCH (to Prof Josserand) : So the red flags were there?
EMMANUEL JOSSERAND: Yes, the red flag were definitely there, and there were ongoing inquiries about it.
Australian Medical Association president, Julian Rait, was especially scathing of the Victorian Government’s mismanagement:
JULIAN RAIT, PRESIDENT OF THE AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (VICTORIA): Well I was hearing from frontline emergency staff that they had concerns about the arrangements for transport of positive patients from the quarantine hotels who were getting medical checks at the emergency rooms. And so the concern they had was about the transfer arrangements. Often they could be transferred in the appropriate ambulance but would need to find their own way back to the hos- to the hotels themselves. And that would obviously either involve either, uh, a taxi, an Uber, or even, uh, prevailing upon family members…
We had a whole host of concerns around how the hotel quarantine system was being managed in terms of resourcing and also in terms of the protocols being used, of which infection control was one of the issues we raised. And, uh, we were obviously disappointed that, uh, those suggestions, uh, given in good faith, were not subsequently followed…
Well I was very concerned that we were going to find escalating levels of community transmission because I was aware, of course, that many of these people who were employed in security, of course are on a minimum wage. They also had a number of different types of jobs in the community, and as a result of that they would move freely through different types of work places…
PAT McGRATH, REPORTER: (To Julian Rait) So how would you characterize Victoria’s public health response to this pandemic?
JULIAN RAIT, PRESIDENT OF THE AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCAITON (VICTORIA) Well, it’s been inadequate, clearly. And the reason that that’s been the case is because it’s been woefully under resourced and compared to other states, it’s just a fraction of the resources that they’ve deployed.
STEPHANIE MARCH: The AMA says the Victorian health department has been weakened by years of budget cuts and restructuring.
JULIAN RAIT, PRESIDENT OF THE AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATON (VICTORIA): I think we’ve known for many years that the particularly the public health teams have been underfunded and under resourced in Victoria, and also the Department of Health and Human Services which was formed in 2015, really has what I would call a dysfunctional and byzantine organizational architecture so this has kind of given rise to I think the situation we’ve seen here…
Many of the health officers that have been seconded from other states to assist Victoria have noticed how much or how much further behind Victoria is compared to other states in terms of their IT preparedness for a pandemic. It seems to me that you know, Victoria and the Department of Health and Human Services has almost like a fax machine style IT capability, compared to a more contemporary one that we see in other states.
The Victorian Government’s bungled contact tracing was also revealed:
STEPHANIE MARCH: As the number of new cases climbed the state’s contact tracing system was failing to keep up… There are multiple accounts of the contact tracing system’s dysfunction.
In July health care worker Kerry Shepherd was told by the health department her COVID test was negative and she went back to work. The next day she got an alarming message.
KERRY SHEPHERD: I saw that there were three missed calls and a text message saying, “This is from Department of Health. You’ve tested positive and you’ve missed our attempts at contacting you. Um, but you are required to quarantine. There was a moment of, “Oh no, I’ve gone to work, I’ve interacted with everybody.” Fridays are our busiest day by far in the clinic, so all our staff were there. I passed, you know, patients in the waiting room and I just thought, if I’ve brought this down on their heads and everybody in the clinic has to quarantine for two weeks now and all our patient surgeries have to be cancelled, it’s going to be a nightmare.
STEPHANIE MARCH: The next morning she was told she was actually negative. But her close contacts were still told to isolate.
KERRY SHEPHERD: So at this point, my colleagues and my partner had kind of a, an official SMS from the Department of Health saying, “You are required to quarantine,” and then they had a forwarded SMS from me that said, “No, everything’s fine. You don’t have to.” And I think some of them were ok with that, some of them were uncomfortable, with the lack of kind of official direction.
The whole Four Corners report is a damning indictment on the Andrews Government, whose failed decision making and systems imported one of the biggest public health and economic disasters in the nation’s history.