The Australian government has ordered an investigation on the cause of an alarming increase in coronavirus cases in Victoria, Australia amid claims that guards slept with isolated guests, shook hands, and shared lifts at quarantine hotels.
According to Mirror, authorities will also investigate reports that quarantined families roamed and visited other guests to play card games.
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As of Thursday, July 2, Victoria had 73 new COVID-19 cases, which put 36 suburbs back into lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. On July 1st, the city recorded the highest daily rate since the crisis began early this year, with 20 new cases with no identified sources.
Premier Daniel Andrews said an inquiry was launched as there were protocol breaches among quarantine hotel staff, which may have led in the second wave. This was after genomic testing linked many of the coronavirus reported cases in May and June to private contractors who work at two quarantine hotels.
Amid the scrutiny over its hotel quarantine program, Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said Victorians were let down because people did not take seriously the risks posed by returning travelers.
“I’m angry, whether it was individuals or companies did not take this seriously enough, and we’ve got this spread,” said Neville.
Meanwhile, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he did not decide on using contracted security guards on quarantine facilities after these turned out to have breached protocols.
“[It] was jointly oversight by emergency management within the Department of Health and Human Services, Emergency Management Victoria and Department of Jobs Precinct and Regions,” Sutton said.
Various reports about breaches in quarantine hotel personnel have shocked the police, government circles, and the Australian hotel industry.
According to CNN, there were reports that hotel staff and security guards had sexual interactions with guests who were on isolation while families visit other guests to play card games.
Security firms are also accused of enlisting ghost employees to inflate the amount that the government would pay for their services. Also, guards have allegedly shaken hands with each other, shared lifts, had limited training, and wore personal protective equipment for a longer time without replacing it.
Some staff also worked shifts at other hotels and private facilities outside the quarantine hotel, which may have augmented the increase in cases.
A security guard interviewed in Today show said that he only got five minutes of training before working in the hotel.
About 20,000 returning travelers have spent in quarantine hotel facilities to stop the spread of coronavirus. However, DNA tests showed some of the new coronavirus cases linked to the hotel staff who allegedly breached infection control protocols, particularly those in late May and early June.
As of Thursday, there were 32 cases in that cluster as a new case was linked to the Stamford Plaza Hotel, while other cases have been linked to the Rydges on Swanston Hotel.
Health officials believe security guards acquired the virus at these hotels before security guards among friends and relatives.
“That left me in no doubt that if not right now, but certainly back weeks and weeks ago, there was a significant infection control problem,” Andrews said.
Andrews said such breach is “unacceptable” to him. “I’m sure that will be unacceptable certainly to all of those who will be impacted by the restrictions that we have had to reimpose,” he added.
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