Parliamentary report calls for improvements to Victoria’s COVID-19 contact tracing system

By Shannon Jenkins

December 14, 2020

Melbourne lockdown curfew
Melbourne lockdown curfew. (AAP Image/Erik Anderson)

A parliamentary inquiry into the Victorian government’s COVID–19 contact tracing system and testing regime has found that the state must get better at identifying, preventing and minimising public health risks to the community.

The Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee on Monday said the government’s use of manual data entry processes at the beginning of the pandemic meant that the system for contact tracing and recording of testing was “not fit to deal with any escalation of cases and led to significant errors”.

In a new 260-page report, the committee has outlined 47 findings and 19 recommendations to the state government, including for the state to use its experience of the pandemic for reviewing, testing and enhancing the public health system towards a more decentralised, community-based approach.

It has also recommended the government establish a trained reserve workforce for future public health emergencies, and develop  clear and accessible guidance for businesses on their obligations for contact tracing record keeping.

The government should also embed general practitioners into the system of management of contact tracing and testing as part of a localised, collaborative and more person-centred approach, the report recommended.

Following its six-week inquiry, the committee has called for greater transparency from the state government in relation to processes. It has argued that this, combined with “a willingness to acknowledge and take responsibility for failings”, would boost public trust and confidence in the capacity of the Victorian contact tracing system and testing regime.

Read more: The Briefing: Victoria’s second-and-a-half wave faces calls to expand testing criteria

The committee found that while Victoria’s redeveloped contact tracing system is more effective, there is room for improvement.

On the other hand, the current COVID-19 testing regime is fit for purpose to monitor, identify, record and communicate up to 15,000 results per day within 24 hours, and additional capacity is currently being invested to allow 35,000 tests to be processed per day.

Committee chair Fiona Patten said the state government and the Department of Health and Human Services — soon to become the Department of Health — has learnt many lessons about how to deal with emerging threats to public health, particularly in infectious disease control.

“Victoria’s processes are robust and have been implemented in response to what has been learnt over the last months. We are now far better prepared should Victoria face a similar situation in the future,” she said.

“Victoria now sits in the enviable position of having effectively eliminated COVID-19 from our community through testing and contact tracing but has had to impose significant restrictions on citizens.

“We have many hard-working health professionals and public sector officers to thank for their contribution and I commend them all for their work. I also acknowledge the outstanding part played by Victorians.”

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