Guests in Melbourne’s bungled hotel quarantine program were seen with takeaway coffee and leaving their rooms to go to the convenience store, documents reveal.
Documents unveiled during Monday’s inquiry revealed Victoria Police Commander Timothy Tully received an email from a former police colleague on April 15 with photos that he said were of quarantined people “out again this morning”.
“One has tried to enter a convenience store on site,” the email read.
A further redacted email to Cdr Tully on April 16 about people quarantined at the Pan Pacific Hotel South Wharf noted: “They are still out and about exercising … not too many this morning. We will continue to monitor – but from my observation the exclusion zone is being poorly managed, we even saw what looked like someone with a takeaway coffee.”
At the time, the hotel operators had expressed concern, given the hotel’s location next to the DFO shopping centre, which at the time was still operating.
The issues prompted Cdr Tully to organise a “security forum” to ensure all stakeholders were on the same page regarding rules about people leaving their rooms and exercise and mental health breaks.
The hotel quarantine inquiry continues on Tuesday, with witnesses to include representatives from Alfred Health, the Department of Human Services and Safer Care Victoria.
TRANSMISSION FROM OBJECTS UNDERESTIMATED
The risk of catching COVID-19 from inanimate objects was underestimated, the health department’s senior medical advisor has told the inquiry.
Department of Health and Human Services senior medical adviser Simon Crouch said that as of May, the spread of the virus via inanimate objects, known as fomite transmission, was not considered a significant way for the virus to spread in Victoria.
But he added his opinion changed after outbreaks at The Rydges on Swanston in Melbourne and the Stamford Plaza Hotel, which have since been identified as leading to 99 per cent of Victoria’s second wave of COVID cases.
“It is fair to say as of the 1st of May I was aware of fomite transmission is a possibility,” Dr Crouch said.
“But we didn’t have very much evidence from the outbreaks and cases we had seen up until that point in Victoria that it had played a significant role in any of the outbreaks we managed at that point.”
Dr Crouch said the experience of outbreaks managed since then had proved fomite transmission played a bigger role that he thought.
“It does appear the fomite transmission played a larger role than I had given it credit for at that point,” he said.
DIFFERENCES IN CONTACT TRACING RESULTS
Alfred Health staff raised concerns information they were getting about contact tracing differed from what the health department was advising, an inquiry has been told.
Chief operating officer of Alfred Health, Simone Alexander, told the hotel quarantine inquiry on Tuesday Alfred Health was doing contact tracing of its own staff as a matter of course.
However, staff raised concerns when contract tracing results from the department were delayed, compared to results from Alfred Health.
There was also “conflicting information” about what they were told about potential exposure to COVID-19 in regard to how long staff that may have been exposed to the virus should isolate, at what point they should be tested and their return to work.
“The conflicting information was around how long they needed to furlough and at what point they needed to get a test and around the ability to return to work,” Ms Alexander said.
Alfred Health had an expanded role in the quarantine program from about mid-June.
The inquiry continues.