The state government has created a new, dedicated agency – COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV) –to oversee the scheme, which will include the frontline worker accommodation program (formerly known as Hotels for Heroes), mandatory quarantine for people entering Australia (including health hotels for positive and suspected cases or close contacts) and emergency accommodation for local residents who need a safe place to quarantine.
Significantly, Mr Andrews revealed there would be no private security used at all in the new scheme.
“There are no private security engaged, only Victoria Police performing those roles as well as ADF,” he said.
“No moonlighting, no second jobs, no subcontracting of a subcontract because there are no subcontracts, it is all direct and obvious and clear.”
The role of undertrained private security guards was a focal point of the independent inquiry into the first failed hotel quarantine scheme, which led to a second wave of virus in the community causing the deaths of 768 people and the infection of 18,000 others, an independent inquiry into the scheme has heard.
After months of probing by the inquiry and the media into who decided Victoria Police would not guard hotels during the program’s first iteration, Mr Andrews announced on Monday that the police force woud now be the official lead agency in charge of the security of the retooled program.
Police Minister Lisa Neville said the new-look program would see 300 police officers and 220 ADF personnel embedded in hotels each day – as well as better welfare standards for those undergoing quarantine.
“[Although] people will not be able to … leave the room for exercise, we will be providing a range of entertainment throughout the day for children and for adults,” she said.
She said she had received no pushback from Victoria Police “whatsoever” on taking on more responsibility in the second version of the scheme.
“Not only have they said this is the most important job at the moment in Victoria, and they are party to it, they are there to do whatever is needed to make sure this program is safe,”
“In addition to that we will have infection prevention and control embedded into every aspect of the program, whether from training, the PPE, training standards, spotters on-site, healthcare services on-site, it is a critical part of the program which was a recommendation of the board of inquiry.”
The revamped quarantine program will be led by Corrections Commissioner Emma Cassar, who has been appointed as interim Commissioner of CQV and will report directly to Ms Neville.
Ms Cassar said 11 hotels across Melbourne and the airport area had been contracted for the new quarantine program, and simulations had been run in recent weeks to stress test the scheme.
New rigorous infection screening protocols would begin at the airport with returned travellers, she said.
“Those who are symptomatic or have temperatures will be taken directly to the health hotel,” Ms Cassar said. “This is about protecting the rest of the travellers and our staff at the airport.”
“Once they arrive at the hotels, we have completely reset all the cleaning and hotel functions. All the contracts have been reset and we have done that deliberately so we know and have set the standard for all requirements including cleaning, food, waste, linen and staffing arrangements.
“All staff are suitably screened into hotels, including temperature testing and the questionnaire about where they have been in the last 14 days. If they have come in contact with other high-risk industries. This will protect people from the outset.”
Mr Andrews said there would be testing of hotel staff every day, while their family members would be offered a test every week.
The Premier had previously announced that all staff working in quarantine hotels would be contact traced in advance, to understand who workers lived with and indentify any risks.
Ms Neville said on Monday that if staff were found to live with another worker in a high-risk industry they would be offered an alternative place to live during “shift periods”.
“In any of our new recruitment going forward we will be looking at ways in which we ensure that that we don’t have people who are employed who live with someone from aged care,” she said
“Victoria Police [are] going through that process now … they’re offering anyone who does live with someone in any high risk industry, not to have to take on the role [at hotels].”
The details of the new scheme come after the Victorian government began advertising roles paying up to $85,000 a year for people to work in its retooled hotel quarantine scheme.
Duties for the 12-month fixed-term roles would include escorting returned travellers to their hotels, conducting temperature screening and checking passenger identification, according to the position description posted by the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
International arrivals in Melbourne will initially be capped at 1120 people a week, lifting Australia’s weekly cap to almost 8000 people, but Mr Andrews has committed to raising that number over time.
“I believe this is a program that is a safe as it can be, but I’m obliged to make the point that no hotel quarantine system whether it Adelaide or in Sydney or in New Zealand, you cannot make it a zero risk,” he said.
The chair of the hotel quarantine inquiry, Jennifer Coate, is set to hand down her final report into the first quarantine scheme on December 21.
Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.