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Local News - Victoria

Government starts contracting more hotels ahead of boost to international arrivals cap


“The number of required sites will vary depending on whatever the new arrivals cap is set at, as well as individual building capacity.”

The preparations come as Premier Daniel Andrews on Friday announced a further easing of coronavirus restrictions, allowing up to 30 people to gather in homes from Saturday, double the previous limit of 15.

Victoria’s travel ban on nine of 10 local government areas in western Sydney previously deemed “red zones” has also been lifted, while Greater Brisbane has been upgraded to a “green zone” with no travel restrictions.

Victoria has been receiving 1120 Australians from overseas per week since its hotel quarantine program resumed on December 7, with more than 2200 people in hotels in Melbourne at any one time.

Premier Daniel Andrews said announcements on increased international arrivals would come soon.

Premier Daniel Andrews said announcements on increased international arrivals would come soon.Credit:Joe Armao

That number will likely increase significantly next month, around the same time a temporary 50 per cent cut on international arrivals in NSW, Western Australia and Queensland ends on February 15.

In a further boost for returning Australians, Emirates on Friday reversed its decision to cancel all services to Australia.

Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus was sparked by lapses in hotel quarantine where workers in two hotels contracted COVID-19 and spread it into the community, leading to months of tight restrictions and more than 800 deaths.

An inquiry into the program found serious, systemic problems with the Andrews government’s infection control and management in the hotels.

When the quarantine program restarted in December under newly created agency COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, the state government contracted 11 hotels in the CBD and near Melbourne airport, including two “health” hotels for positive coronavirus cases.

The 39,000 Australians overseas who have registered an interest to fly home suffered a setback earlier this month when national cabinet halved arrivals caps, primarily to guard against the more infectious UK strain of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said international caps would not grow again before February 15.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said international caps would not grow again before February 15.Credit:Lukas Coch

Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterated on Friday that the caps would not increase before February 15 but said the topic would be a priority for discussions with premiers and chief ministers ahead of the next national cabinet meeting on February 5.

“Of course there is more [people trying to come home] given the deterioration of the situation around the world,” Mr Morrison said.

“Our first priority … is the health and safety within Australia, and then to seek to bring and support as many Australians seeking to come home as possible.”

In Victoria, three additional quarantine hotels are hosting about 1200 Australian Open players and officials until the end of the month.

The government views that program, paid for by Tennis Australia, as a dry run for boosting quarantine spaces, with hundreds of newly trained staff that will be able to work across other sites.

From next month, Victoria could return to similar quarantine numbers as May last year, when up to 16 hotels hosted more than 4000 people simultaneously, or about 2000 new arrivals per week.

Australian Open players in front of the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, one of three hotels housing tennis players and officials.

Australian Open players in front of the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, one of three hotels housing tennis players and officials.Credit:Getty

Melbourne’s hotels will soon receive about 330 Tasmanians currently overseas as part of an agreement where the southern state will in turn host 1500 seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands for Victoria.

Mr Andrews said other states “will be pleased to see us do more” once Victoria boosted its cap.

“We’re very confident we can do that but that’s not next week. That’ll be in coming weeks, and we’ll make announcements very soon about that,” he said on Thursday.

Domestically, only Cumberland council in western Sydney remains a “red zone” after Friday’s announcement. The rest of Greater Sydney is “orange”, meaning people entering Victoria must be tested within 72 hours and isolate until they receive a negative result.

Mr Andrews said: “That will be great news, I know, for people who are wanting to come home and, of course, those who, for whatever reason, need to travel into those communities.”

COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria came under fire for the first time since its creation this week when neighbours complained of discarded personal protective equipment on the street outside the View hotel on St Kilda Road.

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Mr Andrews apologised on Thursday and said a late garbage truck had caused overflowing PPE bins to spill over in front of the hotel, which is hosting tennis players.

“They are now putting in place overflow arrangements, so if that is to happen again there would be additional storage capacity so that it could be stored safely,” he said.

“We don’t want to see that happen again and we apologise to local residents if there was any distress caused by it.”

Government contracts to enter the quarantine program are hotly contested among the hotel industry despite the risk of negative publicity if outbreaks occur.

The government pays a standard rate to book out the entire hotel, guaranteeing full occupancy on contracts up to 12 months at the same time hotels continue to suffer from international and interstate border closures.

Melbourne hotel occupancy was 35 per cent last week, a 10 per cent drop since Victoria introduced border closures on NSW from January 1 according to statistics from Accommodation Australia.

Prior to this month’s reductions, NSW was receiving 3000 returning travellers per week and Western Australia and Queensland about 1000.

Mr Morrison confirmed that hotel quarantine workers would be among the first to receive coronavirus vaccinations once they begin in February or early March.

With Melissa Cunningham

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Australian News

Australian Open coronavirus quarantine hotel’s discarded PPE found outside neighbours’ homes


Victorian residents living next door to an Australian Open quarantine hotel are worried they have been exposed to potential health risks, saying overflowing biohazard bins caused used PPE to be blown into their apartment foyer.

Melbourne resident Sarah, who lives next door to the View hotel on St Kilda road, said she was also concerned by the amount of people who were coming in and out of the building without masks, including what she said was dozens of food delivery drivers each day.

The View hotel is one of three sites where international tennis players and their entourages are quarantining before the Australian Open next month.

At least seven people linked to the tournament have been confirmed to have COVID-19, and more than 70 players are in strict quarantine as close contacts.

Sarah, who did not want to use her surname for privacy reasons, said on the weekend there were around 10 bright yellow biohazard bins that had overflowed and the wind had blown used face masks and gloves across the street.

“In our apartment block, a lot of people I’ve spoken to aren’t going out, because they’re not sure how safe it is,” Sarah said.

“Our building has a lot of elderly people as well as children, basic stuff like this should not be happening.”

Road closure signs block access to the front of The View Hotel, photographed on a sunny Melbourne day.
The View is one of three hotels housing the Australian Open players and their entourages.(ABC News: Chris Le Page)

Father-of-two Brijesh, who also lives nearby, said he believed it was a “double standard” international tennis players were allowed in Australia and said his family was being put at risk because of it.

“It’s been a big issue — we’ve seen half a dozen face masks at a time on our front doorstep, since the hotel quarantine began next door,” he said.

“I’ve been quite worried about it actually, because my five-year-old daughter is at the stage where she likes to pick things up, so it’s pretty scary.”

Face masks and other bits of rubbish on a suburban street at night.
Residents say the personal protective equipment was blown onto the street during a windy night.(Supplied)

Improper disposal of used PPE by security guards and hotel quarantine staff during the state’s second wave was highlighted as a problem during the hotel quarantine inquiry hearings.

The COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV) agency said it would review CCTV of the street to find the source of the discarded PPE and would take any appropriate action necessary.

“CQV’s biohazard bins are stored and collected from the secure basement carpark of the View Melbourne, with no public access,” a CQV spokesperson said

“This measure ensures the bins are safely collected within a secure environment to reduce any risk to public health.”

Resident says ‘lazy behaviours’ are on display

Sarah said she constantly saw many people, including workers, coming and going from the building without masks.

“It’s quite upsetting given what the city went through with hotel quarantine last year, that we seem to be witnessing some really lazy behaviours,” she said.

“Constantly during the day and night we see delivery drivers going in and out of the building — I would say about 10 to 15 every lunch and dinnertime.”

The CQV spokesperson said delivery drivers had no access to the hotel.

“They are met out the front by CQV staff who wear appropriate PPE and are trained in our strict IPC protocols. CQV staff then deliver the food outside the resident’s room door,” they said in a statement.

Sarah said only yesterday she witnessed PPE blowing around the streets and she had contacted both the hotel and Tennis Australia, but had not received a reply.

Frank Hargreaves, who lives next to the hotel, said he had witnessed a particularly bad event on a windy night a few days ago and saw a lot of masks had been blown near the door of his apartment building.

“It’s pretty dangerous, but it had been cleaned up the next day,” Mr Hargreaves said.

“The biggest concern I have is the tennis players walking along a busy St Kilda road to get to the courts for training.”



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Australian News

regional quarantine hotels ruled out, Health Minister Brad Hazzard says


The NSW government has ruled out moving coronavirus quarantine hotels to regional areas, the state’s health minister says.

The comments from Brad Hazzard came after the Queensland Premier revealed her government was considering turning rural mining camps into quarantine facilities.

Annastacia Palaszczuk said such a plan would be a “rational option” given a new, more contagious strain of coronavirus had entered Australia and spread in the Brisbane community.

But NSW authorities would not follow suit, Mr Hazzard said.

“This has been looked at very closely by the NSW public health team over the full duration of this particular pandemic,” he said.

“There’s strong views held in our public health team it makes sense to continue to have the hotel quarantine arrangements we currently have.”

He said the main concerns were around transporting arriving overseas travellers to the regions, which might pose a risk of spreading the virus in transit.

Authorities also want to be able to quickly transfer a patient whose condition deteriorates to a major hospital, something that would be harder to do if the quarantine facilities weren’t located in Sydney.

“We simply do not believe, the public health advice here in NSW, we don’t believe there would be an advantage, in fact, (it would mean) distinct disadvantages to consider moving our public health hotels out of the Sydney regional area,” Mr Hazzard said.

Earlier on Thursday, NSW Health issued a warning that anybody who had visited the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane since December 30 needed to immediately get tested and self-isolate for 14 days after they were last at the hotel regardless of their test result.

Contact tracers have spoken to all 10 NSW residents who were reported to have visited the hotel, Mr Hazzard said.

The new virus strain spread at the hotel after a man quarantining there was confirmed infected after returning from the UK.

Fears of wider community spread led the Queensland government to lock down Brisbane for three days last weekend.



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Local News - Victoria

Brunswick hotel’s gigs cancelled after noise complaints


Its cosy rooms are a social-distancing nightmare so publican James Neagle, whose family has owned the hotel for 35 years, tried to find an innovative solution.

He had an outdoor stage constructed in the pub’s car park, putting on a handful of gigs before Christmas. After the first couple of shows, the pub’s owners added more soundproofing, but it seems this – and noise complaints from neighbours – put it in the sights of Moreland Council.

The council received an undisclosed number of noise complaints, which led to it investigating the outdoor stage and finding it in breach of the temporary permit issued to the pub to put on COVID-safe events.

“It was just so joyful to be playing again and it’s such a great space,” Warner said.

“And to have it taken away for such an unreasonable thing, when obviously the musos have not worked and we’re not asking for handouts, all we’re asking to do is to play a couple of gigs on the weekend, it’s really disappointing.”

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In a statement, a spokeswoman for the council said the hotel’s staging area was in breach of planning permit exemptions issued Victoria-wide to help venues continue to operate in a COVID-safe manner.

“The Lomond Hotel converted a private car park to seat patrons for outdoor dining,” the spokeswoman said.

“Unfortunately, in the case of the Lomond Hotel, the permit exemptions don’t extend to converting a car park into a space to hold live music gigs. They are able to continue to use this area for outdoor dining.

“While the outdoor dining exemptions were put in place to support dining experiences and were not intended to support live music, Moreland Council sees a need for greater clarification from the state government around permit exemptions and clearer guidance for venues around outdoor live music.”

Mr Neagle said he had put on five gigs on the outdoor stage, all before Christmas and mostly acoustic sets.

He offered to stage any future shows between 4pm and 7pm on weekends, but that offer was rejected by the council.

“We live in the community and we’re part of the community, so we don’t want to upset the neighbours,” he said.

“That’s why we thought that 4-7 [pm] timeslot would be something that, if you’ve got small children, it shouldn’t really worry you too much. But the council wasn’t too keen.”

A petition started three days ago has attracted more than 2600 signatures in support of the pub and its staging live music.

The council said the pub was welcome to apply for a planning permit to construct an outdoor stage to run gigs.

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Local News - Victoria

Melbourne hotels paid millions to act as empty quarantine sites


Each of the four hotels are participants in the revamped hotel quarantine program that will house 160 returning international travellers a day from Monday.

The Holiday Inn on Flinders and the Novotel Hotel in South Wharf will act as “hot” or “health” hotels housing only coronavirus-patients in the new scheme.

The Stamford Plaza remained a government-contracted quarantine hotel despite some workers contracting COVID-19 earlier this year.

The Stamford Plaza remained a government-contracted quarantine hotel despite some workers contracting COVID-19 earlier this year.Credit: Getty Images

The government refused to confirm how much they had paid the hotels, however senior industry sources said the hotels could conservatively be estimated to receive $100 a night for each room.

Mercure Welcome on Little Bourke Street is the largest of the four hotels at 330 rooms while there are 308 rooms at Stamford Plaza – one of two hotels where workers contracted COVID-19 and spread it into the community in May and June, sparking Victoria’s second wave.

Between the four hotels, the government has spent at least $800,000 a week or about $7 million since the start of October.

A government spokeswoman said hotels had been stood up in recent months to ensure they were safe and “infection prevention and control processes were in place prior to international flights returning to Melbourne”.

Novotel Hotel at South Wharf, one of two 'hot' hotels.

Novotel Hotel at South Wharf, one of two ‘hot’ hotels.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

“This has been critical to allow for on-site training, induction, testing and simulations to occur, so our staff are well prepared to welcome international arrivals to Victoria next week,” she said.

An inquiry into the botched first hotel quarantine program revealed in early November that the program had so far cost $195 million.

In the new program, revealed by the government on Monday, 300 police will be spread across the 11 hotels – some with more than 20 floors – on a 24/7 roster.

Police Minister Lisa Neville said on Monday that Victoria has asked the federal government for about 220 ADF troops to work each day.

The government spokeswoman said police and ADF personnel will be stationed on every floor of the “hot” hotels. In other hotels police and ADF personnel will be stationed in the foyer and rove across the hotels while government-employed “resident support officers” patrol floors.

Quarantine residents will not be allowed to leave their rooms for fresh air or exercise breaks in the reset program to prevent movement within hotels, with exceptions to be made only for compassionate or urgent health reasons.

Players at the Australian Open will also be exempted from the exercise break ban under plans being finalised between Tennis Australia and the government.

Crown Promenade is set to be transformed into a tennis quarantine hub for players and their entourages and players have been told they will be able to travel to training facilities during their 14-day quarantine.

Roger Federer in last year's Australian Open semi-final.

Roger Federer in last year’s Australian Open semi-final.Credit:Eddie Jim

Corrections Commissioner Emma Cassar has been appointed head of the new Hotel Quarantine Victoria body overseeing the reset program and she said on Tuesday she was “really confident” with the process that will start by screening passengers at Melbourne Airport.

“All the reset features for the program are around infection prevention and control. [But] we do need a strong enforcement approach to ensure guests remain safe and in their rooms,” Ms Cassar told ABC radio.

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The first recommendation of the Victorian hotel quarantine inquiry’s interim report was to define the program as a public health initiative after it was revealed private security guards previously worked in ‘hot’ hotels with little to no training.

While the hotels inquiry will hand down its final report by December 21, Chief Commissioner Shane Patton wrote in his final submission that the inquiry should discard the theory that the decision to employ private security was a “creeping assumption” among senior bureaucrats.

Instead, Mr Patton said in his submission that the “starting assumption” should be that the decision came from the Premier’s department and was probably communicated to former chief commissioner Graham Ashton by former department secretary Chris Eccles, who resigned in October over phone records that contradicted his earlier evidence.

Mr Eccles denied mentioning private security in a phone call with Mr Ashton on March 27 while Mr Ashton said he could not remember the contents of the call.

Yet in his strongest suggestion on the unanswered question so far, Mr Patton said the phone records suggested Mr Eccles mentioned it to Mr Ashton.

“Mr Eccles’ recollection is [respectfully] not a safe basis on which to make findings; contemporaneous documentary evidence is,” Mr Patton’s submission said.

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Local News - Victoria

Angst as homeless told to exit hotels


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“For a moment I relaxed,” said Painter, who was homeless for almost three years before the pandemic.

But on November 19 Painter received a text message from her housing support worker saying that funding was ending for her accommodation, and the worker wanted to chat to her about her options.

The support worker asked if Painter would accept a property in the city. “It was horrendous,” Painter said.

“You could smell the ice in the room. I worked long and hard to give that shit up, I don’t want to go backwards.”

Painter said she knows she can’t live at Birches forever, much as she would love to. “All I want is safe housing. I don’t need a flat with fancy shit. I want to be safe and to be able to heal and do something with what’s left of my life”.

Painter is one of a number of homeless people being told to exit their hotels and move to alternative accommodation, including rooming houses, crisis accommodation, public and community housing and affordable private rentals.

“There may be a perception that emergency accommodation is available for all people in emergency accommodation until April 2021,” said a document distributed by the Department of Health and Human Services seen by The Age.

“However, this funding is part of a package designed to support people to exit hotel accommodation, not to sustain all tenancies until this date.”

The document said funding for emergency accommodation in hotels would not continue if a homeless person refused an offer of “suitable alternate accommodation”.

However, some housing support workers say the alternative housing on offer is not always suitable.

A protest was staged on Monday outside Kingsgate Hotel in King Street, Melbourne, after around 40 homeless people were told they would have to leave the temporary accommodation.

A protest was staged on Monday outside Kingsgate Hotel in King Street, Melbourne, after around 40 homeless people were told they would have to leave the temporary accommodation.Credit:Penny Stephens

“I’ve got lots of clients put in a situation where they had to go back to (family violence) perpetrators or sleep rough or go to unsuitable accommodation that takes up their entire payments,” said housing support worker Adriana Mackay.

On Monday, Ms Mackay attended a snap protest held by the Renters and Housing Union outside the Ibis Styles Kingsgate Hotel, where the union said about 40 homeless people had been told they had to exit.

The union called on the government to continue funding hotel emergency accommodation for those waiting for housing, especially in circumstances where rooming houses were unsuitable or not available when their “exit date” arrived.

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A Victorian government spokesperson said Homes Victoria was working closely with a number of homelessness organisations to identify suitable housing options to transition people out of temporary hotel accommodation.

The spokesperson said this included the roll out of the government’s $150 million From Homelessness to a Home program that included head leasing (a model that assists disadvantaged households access private rental housing) for 1100 properties.

“Options for people leaving temporary hotel accommodation can include rooming houses, private rental and emergency accommodation. If appropriate alternative accommodation options are rejected, then homelessness organisations may not be able to continue to provide hotel accommodation,” the spokesperson said.

Bevan Warner, the CEO of Launch Housing, which is funded by the government to provide housing and homelessness support services, said his organisation has had to adjust as restrictions eased and the health crisis subsided.

“We have needed to pivot back to business as usual funding limits in place before the pandemic,” Mr Warner said.

“We haven’t enjoyed the rationing exercise, but we have to get to April without more people in hotels than we can pay the bills for.”

Mr Warner said in the past few weeks that Launch Housing had got 150 people out of hotel accommodation. “The vast majority have been really good outcomes where people have voluntarily moved into private rental or back into rooming houses,” Mr Warner said.

But he said for some it was confronting. “It’s difficult for staff to have these conversations, which have been suspended for five to six months.”

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Mr Warner said the government had taken too long to move on the From Homelessness to a Home package, with Launch Housing yet to hear whether it had won a tender to support clients to access accommodation and other support services.

“The housing and support packages can’t come fast enough,” Mr Warner said.

Monica Harte, a worker from the St Kilda Crisis Centre, said vulnerable people were being exited from hotels. “We have now become the eviction centre,” she said. “We offer people a meal because we can’t offer anything else. We don’t have other crisis accommodation to put people in.”

Ms Kerr, the owner of Birches serviced apartments, said she had tried to keep Painter for as long as possible but was told the funding expired in two weeks.

“She’s come leaps and bounds since she has been here, she’s really fought hard to overcome her demons,” Ms Kerr said

Ms Kerr said she would like to see Painter get a home of her own. “She doesn’t want to go where there are drugs, she said she would just end up back where she started.”

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Local News - Victoria

Would you work in Victoria’s quarantine hotels for $85k?


However, under the new program, COVID-19 testing would be conducted throughout employment in hotel quarantine. The job advertisement states: “To ensure the safety of our staff and their family and friends, all new staff commencing will be COVID tested prior to commencement.”

Professor Tony Blakely, epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, said mandatory testing for hotel quarantine workers, where they are rapid-tested daily and given a PCR test each week, should be conducted and would be a “top-notch” regime worldwide.

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“You can’t do any better than that. Testing of hotel quarantine workers and sometimes their families is an astute, wise thing to do,” he said.

“You’ve got all the measures inside quarantine, such as infection control … and then on the other side of the fence is what happens out in the community, like if we pick something up via sewerage testing.

“There’s kind of like a no-man’s land or a fence between them, which is where I see the role of testing once a week of all staff. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but it may well lower the risk by another 50 or 80 per cent.”

Victoria’s chief testing commander Jeroen Weimar last week said all hotel quarantine staff, including front-line workers and cleaners, would be subjected to daily saliva testing for COVID-19 and nasal swabs each week.

“The testing is there to support [front-line workers],” he said. “If it escapes from hotel quarantine, it will go the front-line workers first, and they’re the ones we need to protect and detect at a very early point. It will be mission critical to get it right.”

Resident support officers will be assigned to a single Melbourne CBD or airport hotel and “deployed flexibly” accross different shifts to meet operational needs, according to the position description.

A DJCS spokeswoman said the government had “strengthened infection prevention and control, oversight and professional standards across the COVID-19 accommodation program” and would have more announcements around the reset of the program soon.

International arrivals in Melbourne will initially be capped at 1120 people a week, lifting Australia’s weekly cap to almost 8000 people.

Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said she was “absolutely confident” the state’s hotel quarantine system would be able to handle having up to 160 people arrive in the state a day.

“There’s been a lot of work that has been put in to get the system right and to get it so we can be absolutely confident … that it is absolutely able to meet all of the requirements so we can all stay safe,” she told reporters on Sunday.

Victoria recorded its 30th straight day without a confirmed COVID-19 case on Sunday, but Ms D’Ambrosio said the state’s testing numbers had dropped.

There were 5905 COVID tests processed on Saturday, which she said was “about 4000 down on the day before”.

The chair of the hotel quarantine inquiry, Jennifer Coate, is set to hand down her final report into the failed first scheme on December 21.

There have been 20,345 cases of COVID-19 in Victoria since January, and 819 people have died — 655 of whom were residents in aged care.

Offices in Melbourne’s CBD will return to up to 25 per cent capacity for staff from Monday, subject to density limits, as part of the government’s easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Businesses with fewer than 40 employees will be able to have up to 10 people on-site. Face masks still remain madatory indoors, except for those with exemptions.

“I think it’s really important for us to reflect on the fact we’ve got another day of ‘triple zeros’ – zero new cases, zero active cases and zero lives lost. I do want to make one observation that the testing numbers are a little bit on the low side,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

“Yesterday was a fantastic day to get out with family and friends … so I can imagine a number of people that had mild symptoms may have put off the testing.

“But it’s so important. The numbers are the only way to really know where the virus is and for us to be able to stay safe and stay open.”

South Australia recorded zero new cases on Sunday, but Flinders University’s Sturt campus has had to close after a positive cases attended the Intensive English Language Institute between November 13 and November 28.

All students and staff who visited the university across those two weeks have been urged to get a COVID test, even if they do not have symptoms.

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Business

Vibe and Adina hotels open as lockdown lifts


Melbourne’s hotel industry is gearing up for an easing of border restrictions, but the CBD-based venues will have to overcome the lockdown malaise and travel restrictions on business and international visitors that are cruelling occupancy across the sector.

Both Sydney and Melbourne CBD hotels have seen room revenue slump three quarters on the year before.

The Travelodge Hotel Hurstville will open in August 2021. 

The Travelodge Hotel Hurstville will open in August 2021. Credit:Artist’s impression

TFE Hotels chief executive Antony Ritch is cautious about the sector’s immediate prospects, but points to a lift in school holiday bookings and strong visitation at regional hotels as leading the way out of an arduous year.

Asked how optimistic he was the industry will bounce back next year, Mr Ritch said: “It’s relative. The key is charting a course through next year to the years ahead.”

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“Everything is about taking a long term view in tourism. The reason why we are opening the hotels and we continue to open them, is we look at the long term view.”

TFE will open another 241-room venue, under the Quincy brand, in Melbourne early next year.

It is also moving ahead with rolling out the Vibe Hobart in Tasmania later this month, a premium 130-room Adina product in Canberra in January next year and a similar 194-room venue in Sydney in March.

That will be followed by the Travelodge Hotel Hurstville, also in Sydney, in August 2021.

Mr Ritch expects corporate travel will take some time to open up.

Domestic visits accounted for around 80 per cent of the market prior to the pandemic. Hotels, including those in city centres, were now focused on soaking up demand from Australians unable to travel abroad.

“That’s a market that people are very focused on. But the balance is going to be the recovery of the business traveller,” he said.

Mr Ritch said people were hesitant to make bookings until they knew which restrictions were being lifted and where. “But we expect to see that ramp up nicely as we get through the next couple of weeks,” he said.

“Everyone’s working towards making sure the holiday season is going to be an active season for CBDs as well as regional locations.”

Melbourne and Sydney’s CBDs are “very reliant” on each other, Mr Ritch said. Because they were interlinked, they would feed into each other once restrictions were lifted in both locations. “The Sydney market has not had the full recovery it would have, should Melbourne have been open,” he said.

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Local News - Victoria

Sutton and health department split over public health role in hotels


“This strict view is vital to safeguard the wellbeing and duty of care owed by the State to these people and legal and other risks to the department and its staff, who are administering the detention regime on behalf of the Deputy Chief Health Officer and Chief Health Officer.”

Responding to the revelations on Sunday, Professor Sutton said he had received up to 30,000 emails on coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and as many 150 a day.

“If I have missed a reference to security … when the program was established, I’m sorry, it hasn’t registered,” he said. “So when I’ve spoken to the inquiry to say exactly that, that was the case.

“I was never involved in a decision-making around private security… I was not involved in the set-up of the program and I did not have a command or control role. And as I said to the inquiry at the time, my public health team were trying to make a case for stronger oversight from the public health team so I was keen.”

Professor Sutton’s witness statement to the inquiry declared he was not “sufficiently aware” of the detail of Operation Soteria, the name given to the Victorian government’s program in late March to put all returning international travellers into mandatory quarantine, to form a view if it was the best option for minimising the risk of COVID-19 spreading into the wider community.

“I am informed that Operation Soteria commenced on March 28,” Professor Sutton stated. “I was not directly involved in the operational planning, approving or running of the Victorian hotel quarantine program.”

Operation Soteria required the activation of emergency powers under Victoria’s Public Health and Wellbeing Act. The Chief Health Officer is responsible for authorising the use of the act’s emergency powers, such as the forced detention of people.

Testimony by Professor Sutton and others from the public health team about their lack of involvement in Operation Soteria had led to counsel assisting the inquiry to observe in final submissions that “the Chief Health Officer and Public Health Commander [deputy chief health officer] weren’t in the line of hierarchy in Operation Soteria, they were off to one side”.

DHHS has now provided the inquiry headed by retired judge Jennifer Coate with the emails ahead of the extraordinary sitting. The department said on Friday it had always been cooperative with the inquiry and its requests for relevant documents.

The Health Department’s final submission to the inquiry, signed by the department’s solicitors from law firm Minter Ellison rather than its barristers, stated that it was an oversimplification to say the public health team had been sidelined.

This view, the department’s solicitors argued, did not take into account “the enormous contribution the Chief Health Officer, Deputy Chief Health Officer and delegates have made to the pandemic response in the exercise of powers under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act across the state and through his Public Health Commanders in the hotel quarantine program”.

The Age last week also revealed a separate email chain withheld from the inquiry which showed Professor Sutton authorised a response to the federal government on March 27 that clearly stated Victoria would be relying on private security at quarantine hotels.

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This email chain contradicted Professor Sutton’s evidence to the inquiry in which he claimed he was not aware private security were being used until a COVID-19 outbreak in staff and guards at the Rydges on Swanston hotel in late May.

Addressing the emails on Saturday, Professor Sutton acknowledged he was involved in the March 27 email chain but said he “did not register” the reference to private security in the response he had asked colleagues to prepare for a senior official from the Department of Home Affairs.

Professor Sutton said he stood by the evidence he had given and that he had provided the department with all relevant emails for disclosure to the inquiry.

“My statement to the inquiry was true, I provided honestly, I was under oath, I take those obligations extremely seriously,” he said. “I was not aware, that’s what I said to the inquiry, that’s what I stand by.”

Premier Daniel Andrews strongly backed Professor Sutton over the weekend in the face of state opposition requests he and other senior government officials be recalled by the inquiry.

A spokesman for the Board of Inquiry on Sunday said he could not provide any information about Tuesday’s extraordinary sitting, including if any witness would be recalled.

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Day by day, meeting by meeting, inquiry reveals how hotels quarantine unfolded


1.22pm Ashton texts Kershaw again: “Mate my advise [sic] is that ADF will do passenger transfer and private security will be used.”

1.32pm: Ashton texts Kershaw: “I think that’s the deal set up by our DPC. I understand NSW will be a different arrangement. I spoke to Mick F [NSW Police Commissioner, Mick Fuller].”

1.16pm In the meantime, Ashton also texts Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles:

2pm Meeting between Ashton, Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp, Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville. Crisp notes: “Private security” and “ADF”. Ashton notes: “Private security, “Police back up”, “ADF”

2.17pm Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces that states and territories will quarantine all airport arrivals in “hotels and other accommodation facilities” from 11.59pm on Saturday, March 28. “We will be supporting them also by providing members of the Australian Defence Force to assist in the compliance with these arrangements.”

3.11pm Premier Daniel Andrews announces hotel quarantine. “Police, private security all of our health team will be able to monitor compliance in a much easier way in a static location, one hotel or a series of hotels as the case may be.”

4pm Victorian Secretaries Board (VSB) meeting. Ashton and Eccles present. In notes of the meeting, GA (Ashton) writes: Challenge will be static presence over a long period of time – will end up with some private contractor or else ADF ideally – CE [Eccles] I assume a private contractor.

4.30pm First hotel quarantine meeting. Tele-conference between Crisp, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions executive Claire Febey, Assistant Commissioner Mick Grainger, ADF Colonel John Molnar and others. In the transcript of the recorded meeting Crisp says: “The ADF will be doing just exactly what they’re doing at the moment, helping us to plan for this particular operation. So at this stage we don’t see a need for boots on the ground, so to speak.”

5.20pm Crisp texts Grainger: “I stepped out to speak to Graham and I let him know you’re in this meeting as he’s only just come out of VSB. He made it clear in VSB that private security is the first security option at hotels/hotels and not police.”

Transcript of tele-conference:

10.11pm WhatsApp messages between Jobs Department staff finding security firms to supply guards: “Unified had just received all of the contracts for woolies, Dan Murphy’s, bws and fourth in the chain in reg vic. So growing and showing capability. Plus doing a lot in inclusion pre working with us. I’d add to list.”


Saturday, March 28

6.40am Email from Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent to Grainger and then-Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton.

9.30am – Daniel Andrews provides detailed announcement on the scheme in Victoria where he says the ADF might provide assistance.

6.15pm State Control Centre hosts a meeting between Crisp, the ADF’s John Molnar and the other agencies running hotel quarantine.

The transcript reads:


March 29.

9am First group of returned travellers placed in quarantine. A Defence Minister media release reads: “The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has deployed teams across the country to work in partnership with state and territory law enforcement agencies to conduct COVID-19 quarantine compliance checks. The ADF will provide logistics support for the state and territory police as they enforce mandatory quarantine and isolation measures. The ADF is working with other state and territory authorities to determine their support requirements and stand ready to provide that support at short notice.”

8.02pm Email from Claire Febey, Jobs Department, to deputy state controller Chris Eagles and state controller Jason Helps: “Can I please request urgent action by DHHS to resolve four issues [on the] presence of Vic Pol and DHHS at our Crown Promenade and Crown Metropole (and future properties) overnight. We request that Victoria Police is present 24/7 at each hotel, starting from this evening … Private security contractors have no powers to exercise and have been instructed only to monitor and escalate issues to Victoria Police. Thus a permanent presence is necessary rather than patrols or an on-call presence both immediately and for the duration of quarantine. DJPR has no powers to negotiate this so request this is urgently managed by DHHS.”


April 8

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, email to Eccles: “On the question of assistance with security, I am advised the only deal with NSW was in-kind provision of ADF personnel. I am sure the Commonwealth would be willing to assist Victoria if you wanted to reconsider your operating model. Eccles replies: thanks Phil.”


April 9

4.54pm Deputy Public Health Commander Finn Romanes email to state controllers Andrea Spiteri and Chris Eagles. Copied in are DHHS commanders, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and then-deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen: “There appears to be a lack of a unified plan for this program, and there is considerable concern that the lead roles have not had an opportunity to be satisfied there is a policy and set of processes to manage the healthcare and welfare of detainees, for whom this program is accountable. There are now a considerable complexity and considerable risk that unless governance and plan issues are addressed there will be a risk to the health and safety of detainees.”

7.01pm Dozens of suspected COVID cases coming from a flight from Uruguay. Health Department Secretary Kym Peake email to van Diemen, deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck and Sutton: “Premier has requested that we use a hotel that is close to the airport, not in the CBD. If possible could we say tonight which hotel that would be?”

7.44pm Skilbeck to Spiteri, van Diemen: “We have one contracted hotel who is ready and willing and able to accept COVID-positive guests – Rydges Swanston Street. At this late stage of planning it would be risky to seek to convince another hotel to contract to take such guests. Regards, Melissa.”

6pm Elderly returned traveller hospitalised after ambulance cancelled by medical staff in hotel 24-hours earlier. The COVID-positive man required intubation in intensive care.


April 14

Another security complaint to DJPR: “I have guest [redacted] Crown Plaza 813 that has received an inappropriate note under her door from a security guard. The note said something like ‘Hey hun, add me on snapchat’ she looked up his name and looked up on Facebook and it’s a security guard and wants to complain.”


May 1

10.41am Safer Care Victoria’s Professor Euan Wallace investigating two incidents in quarantine. Email to Skilbeck: “Melissa We are working through reviews of some key incidents in the hotels. The reviews are throwing up a number of issues, not wholly unexpectedly, including the fundamental question regarding “overall responsibility”. In essence, who is responsible for the quarantined detainees. There is not a consensus on this and lack of consensus/clarity fundamentally undermines governance and decisions … May I see your advice? Euan.”


May 5

Infection Prevention Australia review into use of PPE across all hotels identified overuse of PPE and hand hygiene as main areas of non-compliance by workforces.


May 18

Quarantine detainee (Stamford Plaza) Liliana Ratcliff lodges complaint on DHHS website. “We are more likely to catch COVID-19 by being locked in a hotel with other returned travellers than if we were allowed to quarantine at home … I am concerned about the nurses travelling room to room with the same car, the same face masks etc … I want my concerns to be answered by a senior health worker with experience in healthcare. These are genuine concerns as both a human being, and a health professional.”


May 21

9.21pm Health Department Commander Merrin Bamert responds to issues raised by Safer Care officials from April incidents.”This operation was being managed out of a range of sites with no clear operational structure…”


May 26

First case of COVID-19 from a hotel employee at the Rydges on Swanston. Second case is a security guard, tested the same day. Minister Mikakos’ office is notified.


May 27

Outbreak squad finds the hotel and security staff’s comprehension about hand hygiene, PPE and infection prevention control was poor.


June 4

Quarantined travellers are moved from Rydges, hotel is shut down until end of June.


Mid-June

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos requests her department find alternative workforce to security guards.


June 17

Notification of first Stamford Plaza COVID-19 case, a security guard. Public health interim report finds hotel personnel and security contractors received no adequate education in hand hygiene and PPE, and records physical distancing breaches by guards. Outbreak squad finds these issues increased or didn’t sufficiently guard against the risk of COVID-19 transmission.


June 24

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp requests 850 ADF personnel.


June 25

Police Minister Lisa Neville and Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp exchange messages over the prospect of ADF personnel working at quarantine hotels:

Concerns were also raised in correspondence between Justice Department secretary Rebecca Falkingham and Health Department secretary Kym Peake:


June 27

Prominent human rights lawyer Hugh de Krester among first returned travellers to be detained in re-opened Rydges. Room is unclean. Finds plastic gloves and face mask near the bed, food crumbs on floor and stains on doonas.

Rubbish left in Hugh de Kretser's room at the Rydges hotel.

Rubbish left in Hugh de Kretser’s room at the Rydges hotel.

A discarded glove Mr de Kretser found on the floor of his dirty hotel room.

A discarded glove Mr de Kretser found on the floor of his dirty hotel room.

Crisis Council of Cabinet decides Corrections Victoria staff will replace guards and full responsibility for hotel quarantine transferred to the Department of Justice and Community Safety.


June 30

Premier announces suspension of international flights arriving in Melbourne from July 2.


July 2

Premier announces inquiry into the hotel quarantine program. “It is abundantly clear that what has gone on here is completely unacceptable and we need to know exactly what has happened,” Andrews said. Justice [Jennifer] Coate is one of Australia’s most experienced jurists – every Victorian can be confident that she will oversee a thorough and independent inquiry to deliver the answers that Victorians deserve.”


July 10

DELWP staff pulled out of hotel quarantine due to safety concerns. Email from department official to DHHS: “Until further notice, no other DELWP staff members are available for rostering in [Operation] Soteria.”


July 14

Rydges outbreak report: “There is a high risk of transmission from COVID-positive cases being detained in the hotel to the staff members working at the hotel. This is due to the inadequate education and cleaning procedures that are currently in place. The cleaning duties of communal areas were the responsibility of staff; specifically, for the elevators used to transport COVID-positive cases. Because of this, there is a high likelihood of fomite spread from poor cleaning products being utilised, poor PPE used by security staff, and a lack of education surrounding cleaning practices. At-risk populations include staff members from the hotel, DHHS staff, nurses, and various other HCWs [healthcare workers] that were on site to attend to the people in hotel detention. Outside of the hotel, there has been onward household transmission to partners and housemates.”

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