WorkSafe faulted Victorian government departments over airport quarantine in January

WorkSafe Victoria issued improvement notices to the Health Department and COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria in late January before the state’s latest coronavirus cluster emerged from the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport quarantine hotel.

A government source with knowledge of WorkSafe’s action who was not authorised to comment publicly told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that the notices related to quarantine protocols at Melbourne Airport and came about a week before a family of three staying at the Holiday Inn tested positive to the British strain of the coronavirus.

The improvement notices had been issued before Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared the state’s hotel quarantine arrangements were “gold standard” and more stringent than other states.

The Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn cluster grew to 19 people on Tuesday. It prompted Mr Andrews to last Friday place the entire state under a five-day hard lockdown which he described as a “circuit breaker” to halt the spread of the virus into the community.

Mr Andrews announced on Wednesday morning that the lockdown will end at 11.59pm on Wednesday, after Victoria recorded no new coronavirus cases overnight.

The Age has not been able to determine which protocols prompted WorkSafe to express concern. The improvement notices were issues to the Health Department (formerly the Department of Health and Human Services) and CQV, the government agency charged with running the hotel quarantine program.

Officials from both agencies were given written instructions on what needed to be fixed and by when.

The next step up from an improvement notice from WorkSafe is a prohibition notice. Had one of these been served on the Health Department and CQV in relation to their protocols at Melbourne Airport, it could have led to a temporary shutdown of parts of Victoria’s hotel quarantine system.

Mr Andrews on Tuesday foreshadowed plans by his government to examine shifting quarantine accommodation to purpose-built facilities at either Melbourne Airport or Avalon Airport near Geelong.

The Age revealed on Wednesday that WorkSafe had received complaints about workers and doctors in Victoria’s quarantine hotels, including the Holiday Inn, moving between multiple hotels and offices, in breach of the recommendations of an inquiry into the scheme’s failings.

The Andrews government has repeatedly emphasised that employees in its hotel quarantine program would not work at other worksites, and that doctors employed in the scheme would not work at more than one hotel.

The Coate inquiry into the state’s hotel quarantine program recommended in December that “every effort must be made to ensure that all personnel working at the facility are not working across multiple quarantine sites”.

However, employees at Healthcare Australia, which provides medical services in “cold” hotels, have made formal complaints to WorkSafe Victoria because hotel operations managers and leaders of clinical teams have been attending the company’s St Kilda Road office on the same days that they enter quarantine hotels.

A spokeswoman for COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria confirmed a “small group” of employees move between hotels and another office, but said they had only entered hotel “green zones” and had no interaction with guests.

The spokeswoman also insisted doctors and nurses worked exclusively at one hotel only.

Know more? Contact Richard Baker at [email protected]

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