The most recent Covid lockdown of Victorians resulting from hotel quarantine failures must lead many to believe that the incumbent Victorian government is a danger to the health and safety of Victorians, and Australians.
The first lockdown—lasting 112 days in 2020 and costing 801 lives—resulted directly from disastrously incompetent mismanagement of hotel quarantine by the government. The Victorian government has admitted this.
But the evidence from this latest lockdown is that the government’s failures continue. The spread of Covid out of the Holiday Inn Airport Hotel is a direct result of the repetition of the same mismanagement evidenced in the first lockdown. This has occurred even though the government has radically reorganised the bureaucratic structures for hotel quarantine management.
It is this bureaucratic mismanagement that is the problem. It is a failure of governance, common-sense management and transparency. It is of such a scale as to put the health, safety, lives and livelihoods of Victorians and Australians at major risk.
The evidence of the latest outbreak is as follows.
Following the 801 deaths resulting directly from the first hotel quarantine failures, the then Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been disbanded. It was replaced in late 2020 with three new bureaucracies responsible for quarantine. They effectively took over on 1 February.
Most functions of the hotel quarantine program are contracted out to various businesses providing food, cleaning, supplies and staff under labour hire.
The government maintains control over every aspect of the operations. This includes daily control of the numbers, type and qualifications of staff, PPE use, movement of persons through the hotels and so on. The government exercises all decision-making over testing, tracing, isolation and so on. All control and decisions on site are subject to direct instructions from the three bureaucracies.
The staff operating the quarantine in the hotels—the ones in direct contact with travellers—effectively have little decision-making authority. The decision-making lines are remote from the hotels and disjointed. The Holiday Inn was controlled directly through the processes described above.
Sequence of events
The uncontrolled outbreak at the hotel followed the following publicly identified timeline in February.
Wednesday 3rd: A family of three arrived from overseas. Someone in the family had Covid.
Sunday 7th: An ‘authorised officer’ at the hotel tested positive. Other workers subsequently tested positive. Household members of the staff were not contacted or told to isolate.
Tuesday 9th: Household contacts were finally contacted. But one of the household members had already worked at airport terminal, possibly exposing 3,500 travellers. Another staff member tested positive.
Thursday 11th: Another household member tested positive. The government reported 13 positive cases, including some external to the hotel.
Friday 12th: Lockdown announced.
On these basic facts, the failure to contact people for up to three days who were known to be in close contact with the positive case on Sunday is the primary cause of the current outbreak. That is, management failure by the three controlling bureaucracies is the cause.
But we have more information. Our sources tell us the following.
There were regular delays of three days before hotel workers who had close contact with Covid-positive travellers were notified to quarantine.
When the bureaucrats were notified of possible staff contacts, instructions were not immediately forthcoming and only given some hours later.
There is no comprehensive written procedures manual to guide staff at quarantine hotels. Procedures are disjointed. Infection scenario procedures are inadequate or non-existent.
What training of staff there is occurs onsite and does not include written procedures manuals. The most ‘training’ onsite staff receive is a three-minute video.
There also appear to be clear breaches of quarantine protocols. Even though workers were under instructions to work in isolated and defined areas to avoid risk of transmission between workers, at least one ‘group meeting’ of all staff was undertaken in which staff were required to attend.
These events all point to major failure in basic management processes, processes that are just common sense and should not fail.
Still no quarantine plan
In a statement to the Board of Inquiry into the Covid Hotel Quarantine Program, Kym Lee-Anne Peake, then Secretary Victorian Department of Health and Human Services stated that “As at 26 March 2020, there were no plans in place for a mandatory hotel quarantine program for returned travellers.”
It would appear from observations of the current hotel quarantine program, that no written comprehensive plan or procedures manual for the management of quarantine currently exists. If one does exist, it is certainly not public. We understand that none of the quarantine workers at the airport hotel had sighted, been made aware of, or been trained in compliance with an operations manual.
Not following Coate recommendations
Recommendation 22 from the Coate Report (late 2020) states:
Accepting the need to bring in expertise, every effort must be made to ensure that all personnel working at the facility are not working across multiple quarantine sites and not working in other forms of employment.
Contrary to this recommendation, quarantine staff are working at multiple locations and in other forms of employment.
Government dysfunctionality continues—restructuring mess
It is understood that the old health department effectively ceased operating on 1 February 2021. People from the old DHHS who were overseeing quarantine were moved to other jobs. New people came in who had no quarantine background experience or working knowledge of the program and its current status. It would appear that this led to defective or critically slow decision-making, or to none at all.
For example: staff at the Holiday Inn requested instructions on whether to attend work as they had been in close contact with Covid-positive travellers. The bureaucrats responded that they didn’t know and had to wait for a group meeting. When instruction came not to attend work, it was too late. The workers had already attended work as rostered.
In other words, the bureaucracy was incapable of responding to queries from the hotel within the timelines that are necessary when running a 24/7 operation. The failures were/are at the bureaucratic level.
Conclusion—The government is the problem
The current lockdown has occurred because the quarantine management of the Holiday Inn by the government was demonstrably slow to respond to known infections. Close contacts, including staff, were not notified for up to three days or more and not given instructions as to what to do. Consequently, close contacts who were unknowingly Covid-positive went about their activities in the community unknowingly spreading Covid.
This high risk was is well known by the government. The bad management of the hotel quarantine program in 2020 proved the horrendous consequence of such bad management. But the Victorian government has clearly not fully and properly learned the lesson or fully and properly implemented proper processes.
In this respect the government in its current form and leadership poses a major risk to the health and safety of the people.