NSW Police have admitted blame in the debacle where two German nationals were allowed to skip quarantine in Sydney and fly on to Melbourne, saying officers “incorrectly” allowed them to travel on.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said “something has gone wrong” in NSW, and is demanding answers, as police promise tighter procedures in future.
The two Germans – a 53-year-old woman and a 15-year-old boy – arrived from Germany via Japan on Saturday, but did not go into the mandatory quarantine period in New South Wales. They flew into Sydney onboard a Japanese airline, then took a Virgin Australia flight to Melbourne.
The pair are now the first people in Victoria’s refreshed hotel quarantine system. The entire VA838 flight from Sydney to Melbourne has been told to self-isolate at home, and the plane is being deep cleaned.
Victoria was not accepting international quarantine arrivals at the time of their arrival, its hotel system only due to restart on Monday.
UPDATE: Exposure site
Anyone who travelled on Virgin Airways flight VA 838 from Sydney to Melbourne departing Sydney at 12 midday and arriving in Melbourne at 1:25pm 5/12/2020 should immediately quarantine at home and contact DHHS on 1300 651 160 for further information. pic.twitter.com/NMPsEPeIGJ
— VicGovDHHS (@VicGovDHHS) December 5, 2020
The German nationals have tested negative for COVID, but the breach in basic quarantine rules has rung alarm bells with increasing numbers of arrivals to transit through Australian airports.
The federal Border Force told The New Daily the pair had passed customs and immigration checks, pointing the finger at NSW authorities for the quarantine mistake. On Sunday, NSW Police admitted their officers made an error.
“The NSW Police Force has since conducted a review into the circumstances of the incident and identified police had incorrectly allowed the two travellers to proceed to Melbourne,” police said in a statement.
NSW Police said the bungle came after the pair – who police said were German nationals – told officers they planned to continue on to Melbourne.
“After being cleared, all travellers were directed to board a bus to hotel quarantine before the pair advised police that they were booked on a flight to Melbourne,” the spokesperson said.
“Police made inquiries as to travel and exemptions, which subsequently allowed the pair to travel to Melbourne on a domestic flight under standard protocols for exempt travellers.”
“Police practices and systems at the airport have also been reviewed and strengthened as a result of this incident.”
Virgin Australia said it was concerned about the quarantine breach, with a spokeswoman distancing the airline from the mistake.
“We have contacted NSW Health to determine how these passengers were able to enter the country without going into hotel quarantine,” she told TND.
The travellers were carried from Germany to Australia by a Japanese airline. It is understood they were incorrectly issued with all their boarding passes for their entire trip by that airline when leaving Germany, not just the passes for the international leg, which meant the pair did not have to complete Virgin’s pre-flight check-in.
Virgin said its check-in procedures include an extensive questionnaire asking passengers to assert their recent movements and health information, which would have picked up the German pair’s recent arrival into Australia.
NSW health minister Brad Hazzard and NSW Police have promised an investigation into how the breach occurred.
Mr Andrews said the two travellers had initially tested negative for COVID, but will have to stay in quarantine in VIC for a fortnight like all international arrivals.
“They are the first, albeit inadvertent, occupants of Victoria’s reset hotel quarantine system,” he said.
The Premier did not directly criticise NSW for the quarantine bungle, but said “something has gone wrong”.
“It is for the NSW authorities to do, that and I’m very confident that when Minister Hazzard confirms there will be an investigation, that’s exactly what happen,” Mr Andrews said.
“No doubt they will get to the bottom of what has happened but there will be learnings there for all of us and we can make sure that the systems we have in place are as robust as possible.”
It’s believed an employee at Melbourne airport realised the German pair had turned up without quarantining, then reported it. Mr Andrews said the employee had done an “amazing job”.
“We are very grateful to them and hopefully they are suitably honoured by their employer and if they don’t, we certainly will,” he said.
As Victoria prepares to further loosen restrictions, an alert was issued for anyone on Virgin Airways flight VA 838 from Sydney to “immediately quarantine at home” and contact authorities.
Anyone who was at the Melbourne Airport domestic terminal on Saturday afternoon has also been advised to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and to seek testing if symptoms develop.
It comes as Victoria recorded its 37th consecutive day on Sunday of no new virus cases. Premier Andrews announced a swathe of changes to the state’s COVID restrictions, such as boosting the number of visitors allowed to homes and hospitality venues.
Mask rules will be loosened slightly, but will be mandatory in crowded indoor or outdoor areas until at least January, the Premier said.
The state’s impressive zero-case run is about to be put to the test as international arrivals, initially capped at 160 a day, resume.
Five international flights from Colombo, Doha, Hong Kong and Singapore are scheduled to arrive at Melbourne Airport on Monday, marking the start of the state’s revamped hotel quarantine program.
International flights were diverted from Victoria in June after security guards at two quarantine hotels contracted COVID-19.
The outbreaks sparked the state’s second wave, which resulted in more than 18,000 infections and 800 deaths.
The government announced on Friday it will introduce legislation to charge for the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The fees will be set at $3000 per adult, $1000 for each additional adult in a room and $500 for children aged between three and 18 years. There will be no charge for children under three.
The government has said the payments put Victoria in line with other states and territories but that there will also be hardship considerations including fee waivers, reductions and payment plan options.
There will be no security guards involved in the new-look program, with all staff employed or directly contracted by the government with the exception of cleaning staff, who are on fixed-term contracts with Alfred Health.
Hundreds of Victoria Police officers will act as security as well as undertake floor monitoring in “health hotels”, which will house those travellers who test positive to COVID-19.
Australian Defence Force personnel will support Victoria Police by helping guests on entry and exit, as well as registering staff movements and conducting temperature checks. Some ADF members have arrived at their post already, with more to come next week.