A senior public servant in the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has been stripped of her responsibilities and the department is restructuring its senior levels as the state grapples with a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Melissa Skilbeck, deputy secretary of the regulation, health protection, and emergency management division, will reportedly retain her role but her responsibilities will be stripped. She has been in the role for four years.
It follows Premier Daniel Andrews’ announcement of a judicial review into the hotel quarantine system after a number of coronavirus cases in the community were linked to an infection control breach in the scheme.
Justice Jennifer Coate will lead the inquiry, which will examine decisions and actions of government agencies, hotel operators and private contractors, communication between those organisations, training and equipment provided to staff in hotels, and policies, protocols and procedures.
Coate is a former Family Court judge, and one of six commissioners who oversaw the child sex abuse royal commission.
Health minister Jenny Mikakos on Friday said her department was not responsible for hiring private security guards to work at the hotels.
It will be up to Coate to decide whether any politicians will be called to the inquiry. She will deliver her findings to the government by September 25.
Anonymous “senior players in the hotel quarantine system” have told The Age that chief health officer Brett Sutton and other health officials learned of major problems with the system in April, including an inadequate supply of masks and gloves and breaches of physical-distancing guidelines by hotel staff, security guards, and health personnel.
Last week — when announcing strict lockdown measures across 10 Melbourne postcodes — the premier revealed Sutton had advised him that genomic testing had shown “a number of our cases through late May and early June can be linked to an infection control breach in the hotel quarantine program”.
Andrews described the breaches as “unacceptable”, while emergency services minister Lisa Neville said those who ignored the rules have “let Victorians down”.
“I’m angry, whether it was individuals or companies did not take this seriously enough, and we’ve got this spread,” she said.
The state recorded 74 new cases on Sunday, with 16 linked to controlled outbreaks, four detected in routine testing, and 53 under investigation. One case was a returned traveller in hotel quarantine.
Victoria currently has 543 active cases.