Security guards labelled by Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer Brett Sutton as the ‘wrong cohort’ for the state’s bungled hotel quarantine scheme refused to sanitise their hands over religious beliefs.
As the public inquiry into Victoria’s disastrous COVID-19 hotel quarantine efforts approaches its conclusion, it was revealed Dr Sutton was oblivious as to who was actually guarding infected travellers within the designated Melbourne hotels.
In an email sent by Dr Sutton to Federal Chief Health Officer Brendan Murphy on June 22, Dr Sutton expressed his concern about the private security firms, which by then had been linked to an outbreak.
Security guards working at Victoria’s hotel quarantine had refused to use hand sanitiser over religious beliefs
Professor Brett Sutton at the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry on Wednesday
An email sent by Dr Brett Sutton revealing his concerns upon learning that private security guards had led to an outbreak of COVID-19
‘We’ve got good training and IPC supervision but the workforce is the wrong cohort,’ Mr Sutton stated.
Quarantine breaches involving private security guards seeded 99 per cent of Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID infections, the inquiry has heard.
Dr Sutton faced the inquiry via videolink in Melbourne on Wednesday where he outlined his concerns with the private security guards employed to contain the virus.
In a day of drama, documents tendered to the inquiry revealed some of the security guards had expressed concerns about something as simple as using hand sanitiser.
The issue was noted on June 20, just days before Dr Sutton expressed his concerns to Dr Murphy.
‘Security guards informed YNA RN they were concerned about using hand sanitiser because it is against their religion,’ it was noted.
‘This followed previous feedback from nurses to DHHS Team Leaders the Security Guard Supervisor was not following correct infection control practice.’
Dr Sutton told the inquiry he had no input into the hotel quarantine program despite being an expert in the field of infectious diseases.
‘With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that using a highly casualised workforce, generally from a lower socio-economic background, where that means that poor leave provisions limit how one can care for and financially support one’s family if unwell,’ Dr Sutton wrote in his submission to the inquiry.
Last week the inquiry was shown shocking photos of quarantine guests walking freely to a convenience store from a Melbourne facility
Premier Daniel Andrews continue to claim he was not offered assistance from the ADF with his bungled hotel quarantine scheme
Federal Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy offers Victoria ADF assistance again in June
Professor Brett Sutton faced the Quarantine Hotel Inquiry on Wednesday in Melbourne
‘In addition, where many of these staff might combine multiple, piecemeal jobs across different industries to maintain an adequate income, creating transmission risk.
‘In addition, the security guard workforce is often represented by people with relatively larger families and larger networks of friends, which creates additional transmission risks should they become unwell.’
Dr Sutton went onto tell the inquiry he had further concerns about infected security guards failing to disclose who they had been in close contact with after testing positive.
Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID-19 quickly spread throughout the community in June and into the state’s vulnerable aged care sector.
As of Wednesday, 729 Victorians have died from the virus – most of them elderly citizens infected in nursing homes.
The inquiry heard Dr Sutton had been left out of the rapid plans to develop hotel quarantine after it was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in March.
In fact, the first he had even heard of it was during the prime minister’s press conference towards the end of March, he told the inquiry.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in March that returning travellers would be going to secure hotels. It was news to Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton
Email exchanges show the internal workings as the State Government worked to fix the bungling quarantine hotel fiasco, which saw Victoria suffer a deadly second wave of COVID-19
On Tuesday, the inquiry heard Victoria was offered the use of Australian Defence Force troops to provide security in hotels quarantining returned travellers from day one but was refused.
It remains unclear who decided to use private security instead of ADF or police.
Dr Sutton said he was unaware private security was even being used to guard hotels quarantining returned travellers until there were outbreaks.
‘After the outbreaks, I heard of the allegations about security in the media and, considering the issue now, I can see the risks created by the use of that workforce,’ he told the inquiry.
‘I was not involved in the making of that decision. Until there were outbreaks, I was not in fact aware that they were using security guards.’
In hindsight, Dr Sutton said if he was to run a quarantine program now he would not use hotels to do it.
Instead, he recommended the use of a dedicated infectious diseases ward.
On Wednesday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews continued to stand by his earlier claims that Victoria was not offered ADF assistance with hotel quarantine.
The premier, who is scheduled to appear at the inquiry on Wednesday, further refused to comment on whether Dr Sutton had ever been consulted over the use of security guards in hotel quarantine.
‘It’s not for me to interpret, or comment or make findings about a written statement or oral evidence,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘That is before the inquiry. That’s why the inquiry’s been set up. I’d scarcely have time to do anything else if I were to pretend to be running an inquiry as well as doing all the other important work that we speak about every day.’