Today, Monday 7 December, is a rather scary day for Victorians and all Australians. Today is the day that the Victorian government restarts the hotel quarantine program for overseas travellers. The big question is: How safe will this quarantine program be?
The three hotels to open immediately include the Park Royal Airport, Transit Sunshine and Airport T2. Another six hotels are planned to be opened over the next two weeks leading into Christmas. In addition, The Alfred is running two ‘MediHotels, the Novotel Southwharf for complex care and Holiday Inn Flinders Lane for Covid-positive people. One hundred and sixty travellers are expected to arrive daily.
We can only hope that, in restarting, the government has detailed plans for the nitty-gritty of hotel quarantine management. It would be good to have such detailed plans publicly released. Why? Because without proper plans, Victorians run a grave risk of another Covid ‘fire’ outbreak.
Think back eight months.
The first Victorian Covid experience was as if a large factory in the centre of Melbourne exploded, igniting a fire that raged for months. While it was burning, the factory spewed toxic chemicals into the atmosphere poisoning tens of thousands and killing hundreds of people. Millions had to be forced into home isolation to avoid the poisonous clouds.
Now, the very managers (the Andrews government) responsible for the (Covid) factory fire are still in charge and reopening the factory. Should this make everyone nervous? You betcha! Very nervous!
What’s gobsmacking is that when the first Victorian hotel quarantine program started on 27 March there was no ‘plan’ for how to manage the program.
There was no ‘plan’ about how to modify hotels, not designed to handle medical situations, to cope with this highly infectious Covid flu pandemic. There was no ‘plan’ to train staff. No ‘plan’ to provide PPE. No ‘plan’ for medical personnel support. No ‘plan’ to manage travellers suffering mental, or other health problems, or drug addictions. No ‘plan’ for the supply of fresh food or clean clothing. No ‘plan’ for clinical software provision to track people’s health. And no ‘plan’ about what do with people who tested Covid-positive.
This ‘no plan’ was stated under oath to the Coate Inquiry by the then Secretary of the Victorian Department of Health.
The excuse from the Andrews government for its ‘no plan’ policy is that the Covid pandemic was ‘unprecedented’! Unfortunately for the Premier, his Cabinet, responsible departments and department bosses, ‘unprecedented’ is a lie proven as such by the facts.
A flu pandemic was expected. The Andrews government had an international legal obligation to be prepared.
As early as 2005, the World Health Organisation issued a global alert that a flu pandemic was inevitable and that countries had to be prepared. The last great flu pandemics were in 1918, 1957 and 1968. The timing and type of the next pandemic was the unknown.
In 2006 the Australian government developed detailed plans for pandemic management in conjunction with all the states. This included the October 2006 Exercise Cumpston involving all Australian governments testing the plans. The WHO pandemic alert was further upgraded following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic that was comparatively contained.
In 2014 the Victorian government released its flu pandemic plans aligned with the national plans. Each state government has the ‘on the ground’ management authority and responsibility for pandemic management. That responsibility is legally binding on each government under WHO-administered health regulations.
The Covid pandemic was declared by the WHO on 30 January 2020. On 18 February the Australian government released its Covid-specific pandemic plan. Each state in turn updated its plans and preparations. The Victorian government released its Covid plan on 10 March.
That is, the pandemic was predicted, expected and response plans highly developed. The Victorian Chief Health Officer stated in Parliamentary evidence that several pandemic simulations had been conducted in the 12 months prior to Covid.
The Andrews government did have some plans. They had plans for the transiting of travellers at Melbourne airport, placing these people onto buses and then delivering them to hotels. But there were no plans for what to do then.
Travellers were ‘dumped’ into chaos. The Victorian Hotel quarantine program was being managed, or rather mismanaged, on the run. That’s the evidence and admissions by the Andrews government to the Coate Inquiry. Gobsmacking but true.
Here now is attempt number two. The same people, the Andrews government, are having another go. Do they have a ‘plan’ this time for the nitty-gritty of running the hotel quarantine program? Goodness let’s hope so. And let’s hope it’s an effective plan!