Hotel quarantine program cost $195m, report reveals

Victoria’s disastrous hotel quarantine program cost tax payers a whopping $195 million, a highly anticipated report into the scheme has detailed.

After months of investigation, the 84-page hotel quarantine inquiry document released on Friday afternoon also recommended electronic monitoring of international travellers, with the “electronic file” to follow the individual from international arrival through to the completion of quarantine.

The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions spent the most in the program, approximately $133.4 million.

The Department of Health and Human Services spent approximately $51.288 million, and the Department of Justice and Community Safety spent about $10.90 million.

Amid recommendations into a future hotel quarantine program, the report outlined a home-based quarantine model as well, sparking concern the cost of a second scheme could blow out even more.

The home-based system would be for low-risk travellers, while quarantine in hotels would be reserved for those considered at high-risk of transmitting COVID-19.

Among the report’s 69 key recommendations to the state government to avoid the next hotel quarantine program causing another deadly coronavirus wave was a 24 hour police presence.

“The chief commissioner of police be requested to provide a 24/7 police presence on site at each quarantine facility,” the report recommended.

It was also recommended the state government ensure a contact tracing unit is on site at the relevant hotels at all times, along with cleaners.

The report stipulated a 14-day period in quarantine was “appropriate”, while any decision to cohort known positive cases at a particular quarantine facility should “only occur after proper consultation with the appropriate experts”.

“The facility should be operated with the presumption that those in quarantine are potentially infected until it is known that they are not infected,” it said.

The hotel quarantine inquiry has recommended cleaners be on site 24 hours after discarded PPE and children’s toys were found inside rooms in the last program.Source:Supplied

All people in quarantine, whether facility or home-based, should be tested on such days as directed by the chief health officer or their delegate, regardless of reported symptoms, the report also highlighted.

The hotel quarantine inquiry recommended personnel overseeing hotel quarantine onsite have experience in the overall management of “complex healthcare facilities”.

The report also allowed future people staying in hotel quarantine to have fresh air breaks, contrary to travellers being denied this in the past program.

“The quarantine governing body ensures the ability to provide daily fresh air and exercise breaks for people placed in quarantine facilities is factored into not only the physical layout but also the staffing of the facility to ensure there is provision for safe, daily opportunity for people in quarantine facilities to have access to fresh air and exercise breaks,” it said.

It was also recommended site managers arrange standard daily health and welfare checks on people in quarantine following reports from the past scheme that travellers locked in their rooms were suicidal.

The report recommended a visual telehealth platform.

Hugh de Kretser, a returned traveller who was quarantined at the Rydges Hotel in Melbourne, found discarded PPE in his room.Source:Supplied

But the report failed to mention a single detail about the failure to deploy Australian Defence Force personnel to oversee the hotel quarantine program.

The subject has been a controversial topic in the past months, with not one state government official or bureaucrat recalling who made the decision to hire private security guards instead.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he could not comment on the report until he had read it.

“I will see it this afternoon. I’ll read it over the weekend and others will read it over the weekend and we will respond as soon as we can,” he told reporters on Friday morning.

“What will happen thereafter. Once we have a look at the report … we will then be able to formulate what the reset hotel quarantine system will look like, and then we’ll make announcements about that as soon as possible.

“I’m not promising Sunday, I’m not promising Monday, because getting this right is much better than doing it quickly. So when we’re ready to make those announcements, we will.”

The Premier said the state government had “a number of hotels on standby”.

“Not just for return travellers but for family violence victims, for health workers who needed to isolate away from vulnerable members of their family, for all sorts of different people,” he said.

Mr Andrews maintained the government’s aim was to have Melbourne accept international flights before Christmas.

“We want people to be able to be home with their family by Christmas that’s the national aim. We have signed up to that and we will do everything we possibly could to make sure that we play our part in that,” he said.

Premier Daniel Andrews provided a COVID-19 update on Friday as he inspected progress on the State Library station as part of the Metro Tunnel project. Picture: Daniel Pockett/NCA NewsWireSource:News Corp Australia

There have several key developments since the inquiry’s last hearing on September 25 when Mr Andrews gave evidence.

Victoria’s chief health officer professor Brett Sutton was given seven days to provide a statement to the hotel quarantine inquiry to explain conflicting evidence after it was revealed he instructed his lawyers to withhold a key email as evidence.

Former health minister Jenny Mikakos also turned on the Premier after he appeared at the inquiry in late September, saying his decision to “subvert” usual cabinet process caused the hotel quarantine disaster.

Mr Andrews gives evidence at the hotel quarantine inquiry on September 25.Source:Supplied

In the ousted minister’s final statement handed to the Board of Inquiry, Ms Mikakos said: “The haste with which this program was established saw the usual cabinet processes subverted with the Premier.”

Ms Mikakos urged the Board of Inquiry to treat the Premier’s evidence with caution.

Mr Andrews and his senior staff have also since handed over their phone records from the day the state’s hotel quarantine scheme was announced following a request from the inquiry.

Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles then resigned effective immediately over his bombshell phone records.

They revealed he had spoken to former Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton for two minutes during a crucial six-minute window being probed by the inquiry.

Retired judge Jennifer Coate’s following report will be handed down in the near future.

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