The “woeful” hotel quarantine program that led to Melbourne’s deadly second wave is not just a Victorian problem – the other states were just fortunate, an Australian member of the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 response team has claimed.
Victoria is not the only state to use private security firms to guard the hotels which continue to house returned travellers.
So what are other states and territories doing differently?
In Queensland, police officers and detectives – not private security guards – monitor hotels used for quarantine.
In South Australia, returned travellers must stay in a ‘medi-hotel’, which is a quarantined section of a hotel or facility monitored daily by a medical team and security guards.
In New South Wales, quarantine hotels are guarded by security guards from private security companies like those used in Victoria. One difference is that, unlike Victoria, the private security companies hired in NSW are banned from subcontracting out the work to third parties.
But Professor Marylouise McLaws, an infectious diseases expert at the University of NSW, said the training of security guards – outsourced or not – was “woeful” all across Australia.
“It was confusing and it wasn’t aimed at staff looking after potentially infectious returnees,” she said.
“Only infection-control nurses should be involved in the training, and then outbreak epidemiologists should go into the hotels and imagine where the errors could be.”
Professor McLaws, a member of the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 response team, said Victoria was simply unlucky, given none of the hotels were adequately built for infection control.
“Outbreaks have happened not just in Victoria or the Marriott Hotel in Sydney, but in New Zealand as well,” she said.
“Victoria just had all the errors line up.”
Since August 4 in Western Australia, Australian Defence Force troops have accompanied security guards and Department of Health staff at Perth’s five quarantine hotels.
But on Thursday, WA Premier Mark McGowan said he would consider ramping up security even further by introducing electronic monitoring bracelets for high-risk travellers after two women allegedly escaped hotel quarantine in Perth to attend a party.
Like Victoria, Tasmania is not accepting any international arrivals.
Anyone who comes to Tasmania from interstate must pay for their own quarantine at a hotel monitored by security guards.
In the Northern Territory, Darwin is accepting very few international planes and only on a case-by-case basis.
Arrivals from interstate hotspots must undertake mandatory quarantine in hotels.
International travellers arriving in the ACT are required to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine.
Victoria’s hotel quarantine hell revealed
A husband suffered suicidal thoughts while his wife fractured her foot during a harrowing 14-day stay in Victoria’s hotel quarantine.
Ron and Sue Erasmus and their two children, aged nine and 14, arrived in Melbourne on May 1 from South Africa, where they had visited Mr Erasmus’ father upon his death bed.
They were taken to the Stamford Plaza, which along with Rydges on Swanston were the only quarantine hotels to record major coronavirus outbreaks.
Speaking at Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry on Friday from their home in Brisbane, the couple said Mr Erasmus spiralled into depression during their stay.
“I have never seen him like that. He was extremely out of character,” Ms Erasmus said.
She said her husband of 18 years had wondered how high the building was and joked about whether the security guards would be quick enough to stop him taking a “flying leap”.
He was put on a mental health watchlist and given the phone number of a counsellor to contact by the Department of Health and Human Services.
When he called, he was told the counsellor “did not exist”.
“Call it chaos, call it a lack of organisation, it stopped me from doing (counselling),” Mr Erasmus said.
He said it was distressing having to explain his circumstances to multiple staff.
“I felt like I had lost my dad 14 times in that process … every time I phoned someone I had to explain the whole thing again,” Mr Erasmus said.
“There seemed to us to be very little communication between the people involved and there was no continuity of care or management of the situation.”
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