MELBOURNE, Jul 3, 2020, CNN. Australian officials have launched a judicial inquiry amid allegations a fresh coronavirus outbreak in the state of Victoria was sparked by some contracted workers not following protocols at a hotel used to quarantine international arrivals — including reportedly having sex with people under lockdown, CNN reported.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced Thursday that the state government would provide $3 million to support the inquiry. He has previously said a number of cases in late May and early June could be linked to “an infection control breach in the hotel quarantine program.”
Authorities have commandeered a number of hotels across the country as part of its strict border controls to control the spread of the coronavirus. Anyone who arrives in Australia must undertake a 14-day mandatory quarantine at the facilities, which are managed by the government.
Only Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed into the country, with a few exceptions.
National broadcaster ABC reported 31 cases have been linked to Melbourne’s Stamford Plaza hotel, while other infections have been linked to the Rydges on Swanston hotel, which is also in the state capital. CNN has reached out to both hotels for comment.
“It is abundantly clear that what has gone on here is completely unacceptable and we need to know exactly what has happened,” Andrews said in the statement.
According to CNN affiliate 9 News, the alleged breaches include claims some workers had sex with guests in isolation, and a lack of training for the guards. A contracted security guard told the broadcaster’s Today show that he received just five minutes of training before starting the job.
Officials have not confirmed the allegations, and CNN has reached out to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services — which manages quarantines in the state — for comment. In an interview with CNN affiliate Channel Seven on Thursday, Australia’s Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said: “There are two cases where it appears that there have been clear breaches with significant ramifications.”
When asked what he made of allegations that security officers were sleeping with guests in quarantine, Hunt said: “If those statements are true, that would be completely and utterly unacceptable.”
“We would encourage the Victorian authorities to throw the book at them if any of these individuals or the firms have behaved inappropriately.”
Victoria has experienced a fresh outbreak of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, prompting authorities to impose a fresh lockdown in parts of Melbourne.
More than 30 Melbourne suburbs are now under lockdown but some other areas could also be in the firing line after recording an increase in cases. Victoria had 77 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday as part of the state was put under strict stay at home orders, with more than 300,000 residents in locked down suburbs only allowed to leave the house for essential reasons. And it could just be the beginning, News.com.au reported.
A series of graphs shared to Twitter by Dr Paul Vella, a data scientist for Australian company The Royals, show an unsettling trend in multiple suburbs that aren’t under lockdown.
Whittlesea in the outer northern area of Melbourne, Wyndham in the outer southwestern parts of the city and Casey in the outer southeastern area all have a significant number of COVID-19 cases.
The data collated by Dr Vella shows the rise in cases across suburbs from March 23 to June 30.
The most recent figures from the Victorian Government show the number of cases in each of these areas have risen even more in recent days.
Whittlesea now has 65 cases, Wynham has 75 cases active cases and Casey as 110 cases.
Dr Vella told news.com.au these suburbs are following the same growth pattern seen in other areas that are now in lockdown.
“You can see from the data that Brimbank, Hume and Moreland councils are all showing exponential growth in number of cases recently,” he said.
“Moonee Valley, on the other hand, is only just starting to see a surge in cases. I can see the same pattern starting to occur in Casey, Whittlesea, Wyndham and Melton.”
Dr Vella lives in Ascot Vale, one of the suburbs currently under lockdown.
He said that while it is difficult not being able to see his loved ones, it is necessary to keep everyone safe.
“I‘ve been working from home since March and haven’t really been out and about to see family much,” he said.
“It‘s disheartening to be able to see them then no longer able to, but it’s for the greater good to prevent the spread.”
Earlier, Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he “really hopes” Melbourne doesn‘t have to go into a wider lockdown.
“I’m really emphasising that even though these restrictions are in place in those restricted postcodes, there’s an obligation on all of us to consider how we minimise our interactions with other people,” he said.
“And so though the stay-at-home directions apply to those restricted postcodes, all of us across Victoria have to really consider whether we need to see people in other settings, other households, including family members and friends.
“That will be the best mitigation against new postcodes being included, but those criteria that have been used for the restricted postcodes to date are the same criteria that we would apply to other postcodes, so it’s really up to all of the residents there, all of us across Victoria, to ensure that we can keep those numbers down, so that no new postcodes need to be considered for restrictions.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Wednesday he was fearful of the potential for a statewide shutdown, as he urged the community to take restrictions seriously.
“If we don‘t get control of this really quickly we will end up with … a whole state shutdown,” he told 3AW.
“This is not over. This is so wildly infectious that even minor breaches of the rules can lead to this random movement of the virus around the community.”