A senior public servant from the Victorian Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions raised concerns about the state government’s hotel quarantine scheme with health department officials just days into the program’s launch, leaked emails have shown.
According to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, the Jobs bureaucrat emailed public servants from the Department of Health and Human Services and Emergency Management Victoria within 24 hours of the quarantine system’s commencement.
“We request that Victoria Police is present 24/7 at each hotel starting from this evening. We ask that DHHS urgently make that request as the control agency,” they wrote.
They had also asked the health department to deal with problems regarding the supply and distribution of masks and gloves, and to clarify policies on whether returned travellers staying in the hotels could leave their rooms or order takeaway food.
The public servant sent a second email on March 30 — two days into the scheme — urging DHHS to ban those in quarantine from leaving their rooms for any reason and to bring in police support, as the contracted security guards were “not adequate” for the job.
Health officials have since said that security guards may have breached physical-distancing protocols. The main security companies supplying the guards were Wilson, MSS and Unified.
In response to the email, a senior public servant from Emergency Management Victoria said security could call police when needed.
Premier Daniel Andrews on July 2 announced a judicial review into the hotel quarantine system after genomic testing had shown a number of COVID-19 cases through late May and early June “can be linked to an infection control breach in the hotel quarantine program”.
Several days later, it was revealed that a deputy secretary from DHHS was stripped of her responsibilities and the department was restructuring its senior levels. No ministers have taken responsibility for the scheme, and health minister Jenny Mikakos has previously said her department was not responsible for hiring security guards.
Justice Jennifer Coate will lead the inquiry into the hotel quarantine system, and has the power to decide whether any politicians will be called to the inquiry. She will deliver her findings to the state government by September 25.
DHHS and Emergency Management Victoria reportedly had “control and command” powers for hotel operations, including managing, monitoring and responding to returned travellers.
Meanwhile, DHHS, the Jobs and Transport departments, the Australian Federal Police, and Border Force handled the logistics and planning of the scheme.
Jobs also handled the procurement of security companies, services, and supplies for quarantined travellers.
On Monday Victoria recorded 177 new cases of COVID-19 after more than a week of triple-digit daily increases.