Staff at quarantine hotels in Melbourne fuelled coronavirus outbreaks across the city by breaking strict health and safety protocols, DNA tracing has proved.
Since March 29, thousands of returned overseas travellers have spent a fortnight quarantined in hotel rooms as part of efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
But fatal flaws in the quarantine have sparked outbreaks in the city, prompting Premier Daniel Andrews to send 36 suburbs into lockdown from Thursday.
Mr Andrews said DNA tests showed a number of cases could be linked to ‘staff members in hotel quarantine breaching well-known and well-understood infection control protocols’.
Officials said the breaches were linked to a significant number of cases in late May and early June. The state recorded 73 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday.
Six of the state’s 64 new cases on Tuesday were linked to an outbreak among workers at the Stamford Plaza hotel (pictured, staff inside the Stamford Hotel in Melbourne on June 25)
A health worker performs a COVID-19 test at Melbourne Showgrounds on June 29 (pictured) as widespread testing continues across the city – with many cases linked to quarantine hotels
‘That is unacceptable to me. I’m sure that will be unacceptable certainly to all of those who will be impacted by the restrictions that we have had to reimpose,’ Mr Andrews said on Wednesday.
Staff are believed to have contracted the virus, taken it home to the suburbs and sparked the community transmission – with some spreading the virus by sharing a lighter.
Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen previously admitted there had been breaches of physical-distancing measures at the Stamford Plaza hotel.
‘There’s been some closer mingling than we would have liked of these guards in the workplace,’ she said.
‘There’s a large cohort of security guards and workers and unfortunately it does appear that quite a few of them have worked for single or multiple days whilst infectious.’
DNA testing has proved that staff at quarantine hotels in Melbourne broke strict protocols (pictured, returned travellers arriving at the Crown Promenade Hotel in March)
Ambulance and nursing staff are seen at Adelaide Airport on Wednesday (pictured) as they prepare to fly to Melbourne to assist with the worrying outbreak
An inquiry is now set to be launched into the crisis, examining the state’s hotel quarantine program.
The former judge who leads the probe will report back in eight to ten weeks, Mr Andrews said.
The premier has asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison to divert international flights from the state for two weeks to avoid more arrivals at the hotels.
‘I will have conversations with other state leaders to explain that and to thank them in advance of the extra load that they will carry,’ Mr Andrews said.
No one is expected to enter the hotels in question, with authorities hoping to use the coming two weeks to improve the protocols.
There were no details immediately available about where the diverted international flights would now land or how the passengers would be processed
The Victorian government has put large parts of Melbourne into a second lockdown as the state is swamped by a new wave of coronavirus
Health authorities have been scrambling to contain the outbreak with a ‘testing blitz’ (pictured, members of the ADF carry out temperature checks on Melbourne motorists on Tuesday)
Six of the state’s 64 new cases on Tuesday were linked to an outbreak among workers at the Stamford Plaza hotel, taking the cluster total to 29.
More than 30 cases have also been linked to the Rydges on Swanston after workers took the virus home, spreading it to their families.
The premier said he was disappointed to hear of breaches of infection control protocols by staff at quarantine hotels, which included instances of members sharing cigarette lighters.
‘What might be seemingly innocent, quite low risk, it’s not,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘You might never even know that you had it but in the process, you’ve infected who knows how many people, particularly given if you are from a large family.’
The hotel program will restart under the supervision of Corrections Victoria.
On Tuesday, there were 44 international flights scheduled to arrive in Melbourne, including 17 from New Zealand, 10 from China and eight from Qatar.
Interstate travellers pictured on arrival into Sydney Domestic Airport from Melbourne on June 24 (pictured)
Australian Defence Force personnel assist with a COVID-19 testing at Melbourne Showgrounds on June 29
Which 36 suburbs are being locked down again?
3012 – Brooklyn, Kingsville, Maidstone, Tottenham, West Footscray
3021 – Albanvale, Kealba, Kings Park, St Albans
3032 – Ascot Vale, Highpoint City, Maribyrnong, Travancore
3038 – Keilor Downs, Keilor Lodge, Taylors Lakes, Watergardens
3042 – Airport West, Keilor Park, Niddrie
3046 – Glenroy, Hadfield, Oak Park
3047 – Broadmeadows, Dallas, Jacana
3055 – Brunswick South, Brunswick West, Moonee Vale, Moreland West
3060 – Fawkner
3064 – Craigieburn, Donnybrook, Mickelham, Roxburgh Park, Kalkallo
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the inquiry into the ‘scandal-ridden’ and ‘shambolic’ program was overdue.
From midnight on Wednesday, dozens of Melbourne suburbs are going back into lockdown and returning to stage three restrictions.
People living in ten postcodes will have to stay at home until at least July 29.
Those postcodes are: 3038, 3064, 3047, 3060, 3012, 3032, 3055, 3042, 3021, 3046.
Much like earlier stage three restrictions, residents of the postcodes will only be able to leave their homes for four reasons: to shop for food and supplies, to receive or provide care, to exercise, and study or work if they can’t do so from home.
Businesses and facilities in these areas that recently reopened – including beauty parlours, gyms, libraries and swimming pools – will have to close, while cafes and restaurants will only be open for takeaway and delivery.
A member of the Australian Defence Force administers a COVID-19 test at Melbourne Showgrounds on Tuesday (pictured)
This map shows the suburbs which will be subject to stay-at-home orders from Wednesday at 11.59pm after a spike in coronavirus cases
Queensland will also stop Victorians entering the state while letting all other Australians in from July 10 (pictured, the border near the Gold Coast)
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has thrown his support behind the tough suburban lockdowns.
The prime minister is also warning people refusing to be checked for the disease could face fines as a hotspot testing blitz continues.
Mr Morrison said there was nothing surprising about Melbourne’s outbreak as cases continue to rise.
‘Where outbreaks do occur you need to move on them as the Victorian government is and they have our full support with that,’ he told the Nine Network on Wednesday.
Mr Morrison said mistakes in hotel quarantine were lessons for other states, noting no system would be perfect.
Members of the Australian Defence Force are seen putting on PPE as they were drafted in to help perform thousands of COVID-19 tests in Melbourne on Saturday (pictured)
He said it was disappointing people in Melbourne were refusing to get tested.
‘We are doing it the Australian way, the use of incentive – carrot not stick,’ the prime minister said.
‘Occasionally the stick will have to be put about, whether it’s fines or sanctions in place to ensure we keep everybody safe.’
He cautioned against other states reinstating shutdowns if local infection rates remain low.
‘We need to keep the economy open. If we don’t do that it will cost jobs.’
Premier Daniel Andrews (pictured on Tuesday) revealed 928 residents across two Melbourne hotspot suburbs had refused tests for the virus
Nearly 1,000 people in just two of Victoria’s coronavirus red zones are REFUSING to undergo tests despite fears of horror second wave spreading across Australia
There are almost 1,000 people in two of Victoria’s COVID-19 hotspots who have refused to undergo testing for the contagious virus.
Premier Daniel Andrews last week announced a suburban ‘testing blitz’ for residents in Broadmeadows and Keilor Downs as part of a desperate attempt to control a spike in infections.
But Mr Andrews on Tuesday afternoon revealed 928 residents in the two Melbourne suburbs had refused the swab.
‘There have been some 233 new cases of coronavirus since last Thursday, since that testing blitz began,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘That is an unacceptably high number and one that poses a real threat to all of us, not just in those hotspot suburbs but indeed in every suburb and ultimately every community across our state.’
The premier thanked residents who had come forward for testing but turned his focus on those from the red zones who rejected the service.
‘I do feel obliged to inform you that in Broadmeadows and Keilor downs alone some 928 people refused to be tested,’ he said.
‘Now I can’t change that. That’s happened. All I can do is encourage those people come forward and get tested today.
‘Come forward and get tested tomorrow and in a broader sense if someone comes to your doorstep and asks you to be tested please say yes. Please get tested.’
Mr Andrews said the suburbs with the highest number of new cases were in Broadmeadows, Fawkner and Albanvale.