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When hotel quarantine resumes in Victoria, police should be on site 24 hours a day and infection control experts should be “embedded” in each facility, an inquiry set up to examine the system’s previous failings has recommended.
The inquiry’s interim report, released on Friday, also suggests all staff working in quarantine hotels should be properly paid “with terms and conditions that address the possible need to self-isolate in the event of an infection or possible infection” of coronavirus.
The former judge Jennifer Coate, who oversaw the inquiry, made 69 recommendations including that police be on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week; that hotels have infection prevention and control expertise on site; and that all staff be supported “including the need to relocate if necessary and have a managed return to work”.
The site manager at each hotel would be responsible for ensuring workers have the appropriate infection control expertise and access to personal protective equipment. Each site should also have a contact tracing unit embedded in the event of an outbreak, the interim report states.
Much of the inquiry has focused on a decision made on 27 March to use private security instead of Victoria police at the hotels. So far no one has been found to have been responsible for making that decision.
The inquiry heard one of the major issues with the program – which was established in late March and has so far cost almost $200m – was a lack of clear lines of responsibility within the public service and among ministers. Several departments had different roles to play.
Coate on Friday recommended the establishment of a governing body, chaired by the secretary of the responsible department reporting to their minister, to oversee the program. Coate said hotel quarantine in Victoria should have “a clear line of command vesting ultimate responsibility in the approved department and minister”.
“The responsible minister ensures that the departmental structure for the operation of the program has clearly defined roles that have the necessary expertise and advice embedded at appropriate levels of seniority in the operational structure, forming a governance body,” she recommended.
The minister should be provided regular reports on the operation of the program, across all hotels, Coate said.
Under the proposed new model, hotels would continue to be used for returned travellers where appropriate but they must be near hospitals and be modified to ensure people can be physically separated so the risk of transmission is kept to a minimum. The facilities must also allow for returned travellers to safely have fresh air breaks.
The state government should have better control over the number of travellers returning to Victoria, the inquiry chair said, with health authorities to assess whether some could instead quarantine at home on the basis of the risk of transmission.
People quarantining at home would need to sign an undertaking that they would comply with health directions and they could be fined if they breached them. Coate recommended that people quarantining at home could be monitored using check-ins on smartphones – already in use by Victoria police – or electronic ankle or wrist monitors.
Part of the justification for moving to a mixed model for returned travellers was the sheer cost for hotel quarantine – the report reveals the Victorian government has spent $195m on the program since March.
In addition to the $133m spent by the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, the health department had spent $51.288m to mid-September, while the Department of Justice and Community Safety had spent $10.9m as of the end of September.
“On any measure, the cost of the hotel quarantine program until the end of September 2020 has been considerable,” Coate said. “The amount incurred by DJPR alone demonstrates the considerable cost involved in securing hotel rooms, engaging security guards and acquiring specialised cleaning services.”
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said on Friday he was waiting to read the report over the weekend before he would announce changes in line with the recommendations. He indicated the program could be back up and running before Christmas.
The Coate inquiry was first set up by Andrews in July after outbreaks from two hotels – the Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Plaza hotel – led to Victoria’s second wave of cases and a 15-week lockdown.
The inquiry heard 99% of the more than 20,000 Covid-19 cases and over 800 deaths related to Covid-19 in Victoria since late May could be traced back to the outbreaks among staff and security guards at the hotels.
The interim report covers what the inquiry believes needs to be changed about the program rather than setting out what went wrong in setting up the system. Coate said in the report that due to late evidence, more time was required to “fully and faithfully” investigate and report on the program. The final report is due to be delivered by 21 December.
“I feel an enormous sense of responsibility for the work I have undertaken on behalf of the people of Victoria,” she said. “I thank all Victorians for their patience and understanding as the inquiry completes its important work.”
The then health minister Jenny Mikakos resigned from parliament in September after she disputed a claim Andrews made in his evidence that he believed she was responsible for overseeing the program from early April.
The head of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Chris Eccles, also resigned after the inquiry sought more evidence, and obtained his phone records, which revealed differing evidence about his contacts with the then Victoria police commissioner Graham Ashton on the day the program was set up.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Victorian hotel quarantine inquiry calls for police to be on site 24 hours a day | Victoria