People who breached isolation orders weren’t issued with $20,000 fines despite admitting they had broken the rules, the inquiry has heard.
This has come up in the questioning of Dr van Diemen, which has focused on the decision to set-up hotel quarantine.
Dr Annaliese van DiemenÂ said positive cases were still « out and about » in early stages of the pandemic.
She said she considered home quarantine, rather than quarantine in the hotels, but she agreed with the requirement from the National Cabinet for hotel quarantine from the end of March.
Dr van Diemen said the $20,000 fine that could be issued to people who breached home quarantine didn’t appear to deter a « large number of people from breaching that order » at the time.
She told the inquiry COVID-19 cases told contact tracers they had been « out and about in public places when they were under a quarantine order and should have been just at home. »
She said there was a balance between fining people and maintaining trust and people’s willingness to provide honest answers to contact tracers about where they’d been and who’d they’d been in contact with to « manage the public health risk. »
« It was decided not to [fine] at that point in time, but as we have learned further…some of those processes have changed, » Dr van Diemen said.
Dr van Diemen said she called for a clinically-based health expert to be embedded in the hotel quarantine operation.
She agreed with counsel assisting the inquiry, Ben Ihle, that the lack of oversight from the public health team meant that adherence to infection control in the hotels was lost.
The public health team didn’t know protective gear and social distancing was not being adhered to by workers in the hotels, the inquiry heard.
« That was something that came to your attention only after the outbreaks had occurred wasn’t it? » Mr Ihle asked.
Dr van Diemen has acknowledged hotel quarantine was run more as a logistics or compliance exercise, rather than a health program.
She said clinically trained personnel should have had more of a role in overseeing the program and on the ground at the hotel sites.
Dr van Diemen said her opinion was made « in retrospect and we know a lot more now. »
Dr van Diemen said they were primarily employed for public health elements of infection control – not for hospitals – and primarily assisted with outbreak investigations and other infection control breaches in the community.
Dr van Diemen says she also endorsed an email from another senior public health official that warned of risk to the health and safety of people detained in hotel quarantine.
We heard about the email earlier. It was sent in early April by Dr Finn Romanes, who was the Deputy Public Health Commander, to the state controller running the COVID-19 pandemic response.
Dr Romanes called for an urgent review in the governance of hotel quarantine, which needed a clear leader and direct line of accountability to the Deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr van Diemen.
That resulted in the creation of a public health liaison position to work in Operation Soteria, set up to oversee the program.
« I think we were all acutely aware whilst fully supporting the need for quarantine of returned travellers, we were also aware that we were detaining people and there were inherent risks…that we needed to be cognisant of, » she said.
Dr van Diemen has also acknowledged hotel quarantine was initially geared too far towards « logistics and compliance » instead of health.
Dr van Diemen is talking about the health and welfare provided to people who were detained in hotel quarantine.
She said there were daily calls made by nurses to check for symptoms, while welfare checks were performed twice during the 14-day quarantine period.
There was a death, a suspected suicide, in the Pan Pacific hotel in April. It prompted a review from Safer Care Victoria.
Parts of that report, which were shown to the inquiry last week, said the welfare check team was « unable to undertake welfare-check calls to the planned schedule, as they did not have enough staff to match the required workload ».
As a result, « initial welfare checks were often delayed and subsequent checks were often infrequent ».You can read about that here:
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We’re back. Former deputy chief health officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen is now up before the inquiry.She acted as Professor Sutton’s deputy until July. She also acted as the Public Health Commander between February and July.
The Public Health Commander has oversight of the public health response to an emergency, Dr van Diemen said.
That was a huge first session with Professor Brett Sutton. Legal Affairs reporter Tammy Mills has been filing like a demon. Here are just some of the things the inquiry heard:
And that’s it from Professor Sutton. The inquiry will break now until 2.15pm, when his former Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen will begin giving evidence.
The inquiry has heard the CHO asked for the force’s help on March 29, the day international arrivals first started to be quarantined in hotels.
But Professor Sutton envisaged this was for following up individuals at home and to check they were compliant with isolation orders.
A copy of his direction was shown to the inquiry. It was a broad request for police to assist with the enforcement of all directions that were then in place and support authorised officers.
« It was a request to ensure that police had sufficient powers to enforce compliance of all the directions given to the public health emergency, » lawyer for Victoria Police Joanna Davidson said.
Counsel assisting the inquiry, Ben Ihle, said those authorised officers would have included those working in hotel quarantine.
It was at least intended to capture, in part, enforcement in hotel quarantine, Mr Ihle said.Professor Sutton repeated he left the decisions about enforcement to those running hotel quarantine.
Arthur Moses SC, representing Unified Security, the firm that contracted guards to the Rydges on Swanston, made the point that the risk didn’t just lie with the security guards.
A hotel worker, six guards and a nurse contracted COVID-19 while working there at the end of May.
The inquiry heard Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy wrote to Professor Sutton on June 19 in which he said a hotel worker continued to work while symptomatic and didn’t tell anyone because of fear they’d lose income.
Mr Moses was asking Professor Sutton if he had concerns about the nature of the hotel workforce and not just security guards, given Professor Murphy’s email.
« The true state of affairs is a hotel employee, once symptomatic and not at work, did not return to work, and that’s at odds with evidence about the behaviour of security guards, » Mr Woods said.
Hotel quarantine inquiry
Actu monde – AU – Hotel quarantine inquiry LIVE updates: Email that warned of ‘considerable risk’ endorsed by Victorian senior public health official; ‘compliance and logistics’ prioritised over health