Guests allowed to leave hotel three days after testing positive
Nurses on the frontline of Victoria's failed hotel quarantine program have revealed the horrifying extent of the chaos and dysfunction which beset the operation from day one.
From arriving at work to find no gloves available, to bureaucrats telling suicidal guests to stop being "dramatic'', the nurses described a shambles with poor infection control, heartless bureaucracy and no consistent leadership.
Coronavirus-infected guests were even allowed to leave three days after testing positive if they were not showing symptoms.
Veteran nurse Michael Tait said at the hotel quarantine inquiry that a Department of Health and Human Services representative told him not to swab a COVID-positive guest so that the "patient could leave quarantine early".
"If someone tested positive, we would call them up three days later and check their symptoms. If they had no symptoms, they could leave," Mr Tait said.
"It seemed like the department did not care if COVID positive patients just left the hotel and walked into the street."
The inquiry examining how COVID-19 leaked from two Melbourne hotels to spark Victoria's deadly second wave, was told of security staff not wearing PPE correctly, and distressed guests with mental health issues being mismanaged.
Mr Tait told the inquiry of rumours that the body of a man who suicided at the Pan Pacific Hotel at South Wharf was not discovered for "a couple of days".
Further damning evidence is due on Friday, with counsel assisting the inquiry Ben Ihle flagging the appearance of senior Parks Victoria employee Luke Ashford, who was working on the quarantine program.
"You will hear … the circumstances that led him to tender his resignation to DHHS effective immediately on 18 June when he considered that DHHS was not and could not provide him with a safe working environment,'' Mr Ihle said.
A registered nurse with 20 years' experience, Mr Tait told the inquiry he started work on March 29, the first day of the program, and it was "very chaotic''.
He said he went to the Crown Promenade and there was "security everywhere, it was mayhem''.
He worked mainly at Crown Metropol, and in an email sent at the time, wrote the program was "struggling" as he and his colleagues took care of "150 folks each".
He said two nurses were assigned to creating a documentation process for 400 guests and he quickly realised it was an "impossible job''.
"No one had a clear-cut idea for how we were going to manage (COVID-19) positive patients," he said.
"We didn't have any gloves … I think we had just a handful of surgical masks. There were no swab kits at this stage.''
PPE was delivered, as were the swabs, after several days.
Registered nurse "Jen" told the inquiry she worked mainly at the Park Royal at Melbourne Airport.
"My impression was that the program was short-staffed,'' she said.
She said there was plenty of PPE for her and other nurses, but guards wore masks and gloves "inconsistently''.
"It was obvious to me that they had not been given proper education about infection control,'' she told the inquiry head, former judge Jennifer Coate.
"I saw security guards with masks slung under their chins or tucked under their noses. It seemed that guards did not change their gloves during their shifts.''
She said the guards wore the same gloves while using a shared water cooler, tea urn and coffee machine.
"In around my third week working at the hotel I raised my concerns about security guards and PPE with department staff,'' she said.
"I said that they needed to give proper training to the security guards. I suggested the nurses could provide training or maybe the guards could undertake the online training I had done."
She said people with food allergies were not given appropriate food, the department refused to find alternative bedding for a couple who felt the fold-out crib they'd been given was unsafe for their six-week-old baby, and the department "pushed back'' when she tried to get dietary help for a diabetic given high-sugar food.
Jen said she eventually had to take a week off work after a department staffer had told her they had phoned a guest and told them to "stop threatening suicide when they want a cigarette''.
Human rights lawyer Hugh de Kretser, who spent 14 days in quarantine with his wife and two children, said he was concerned to find they were being taken to Rydges hotel, given reports of outbreaks and bedbug infestations there.
He said he saw reports the hotel had been deep-cleaned, but arrived to find a filthy room with discarded gloves on the floor. Bloodstains were found on a doona.
Mr de Kretser tabled photographs showing a thick layer of dust in the room, stained walls and food items and a discarded mask on the floor.
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Originally published as Guests allowed to leave hotel three days after testing positive