About 10,000 residents in locked-down suburbs have refused to be tested, the health minister says. Image by David Crosling/AAP PHOTOS

Health

Premier takes heat for virus hotel debacle

2020-07-04 15:55:16

Premier Daniel Andrews concedes the buck stops with him over Victoria’s disastrous hotel quarantine program.

The day after a judicial inquiry was launched into the program linked to Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus cases, government and agencies are pointing fingers at each other as to who’s to blame for the debacle.

Premier Daniel Andrews has backed Health Minister Jenny Mikakos’ performance during the pandemic, insisting the inquiry will help determine what failings led to the virus spread that has locked down areas of Melbourne.

“I am the leader of this government and I take responsibility, and have accountability for this and all matters,” he said on Friday.

“But the best thing in my judgment is to focus on the things you can control and none of us can go back … We’ve got to be focused on what’s confronting us right now and that is an unacceptably high number of cases.”

Victoria recorded another 66 coronavirus cases on Friday, taking the state’s total active cases to 442 and marking the 17th straight day of double-digit infection numbers.

The health minister said a “super spreader” is potentially behind the spread of the virus through Melbourne’s lockdown suburbs, but this is yet to be confirmed.

She added about 10,000 residents in those suburbs had declined to be tested, saying it is “concerning that some people believe that coronavirus is a conspiracy”.

The premier also warned other suburbs could be forced into lockdown if residents don’t follow the rules.

Genomic sequencing has revealed a big proportion of the latest coronavirus cases in Victoria were due to infection protocol breaches in hotels hosting returned travellers.

A major outbreak at the Rydges on Swanston involving more than 15 people is among Victoria’s outbreaks in the past month. 

Rydges Hotels Group general manager Troy Cuthbertson on Friday said the hotel had been operating under the direction of the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions and the Department of Health and Human Services since March 27.

The Accommodation Association also said the DJPR was responsible for the management of hotels being used for quarantine purposes.

Ms Mikakos said her department hadn’t been involved in the decision to place security guards to monitor returned travellers and hotels, and said she was deeply frustrated by the state’s second peak of coronavirus cases.

The quarantine program is on hold for a fortnight, with Corrections Victoria taking over its operation from private security companies. 

“We will get some explanations about what went wrong with this hotel quarantine program, everyone deserves to get some explanations,” she said.

“That is why it is important that the judicial inquiry completes its work and explains what role every agency played.”

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien repeated his call for Ms Mikakos to be sacked while calling the hotel quarantine program “a complete disaster”.

“What the government has done is make mistakes which is directly related to the virus spreading into community and postcodes being locked down,” he said.

There have been 2368 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state.

Of the fresh cases announced on Friday, 17 are linked to outbreaks, 20 have been detected through routine testing, one is in hotel quarantine and 28 are under investigation.

Twenty-three people with the virus are in hospital, with six in intensive care.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen said it was “somewhat comforting” to see a decree of stability in numbers despite the 66 new cases.

“That northwest corridor is really where the majority of our cases are still focused,” she said.

More than 880,000 COVID-19 tests have been done in the state since the start of the year, with 24,430 tests conducted on Thursday alone.