Rydges quarantine hotel outbreak ‘inevitable’
The hotel quarantine inquiry was on Tuesday told of a litany of failures, including the use of inadequate cleaning products, security guards being used to clean communal areas, 48-hour delays in cleaning the hotel after the outbreak, and a four-day delay in requiring all staff to isolate after the outbreak occurred.
It prompted counsel assisting the inquiry Ben Ihle to ask: "Given what we now know, it's the case, isn't it, that an outbreak from the Rydges Hotel was not only likely, it was almost inevitable?''
Dr Simon Crouch, DHHS outbreak specialist, then conceded: "I would say that given what we know now about the practices that were in place at the time that those initial transmission events occurred… there was a high risk of transmission of coronavirus from returned travellers to people working in that setting.''
The inquiry has previously heard that the outbreak at the Rydges Hotel in late May seeded 90 per cent of Victoria's catastrophic second wave of COVID-19 infections, while two further outbreaks at the Stamford Plaza three weeks later sparked almost 10 per cent.
In startling evidence to the inquiry, it was revealed:
A DHHS report into the Rydges hotel showed staff cleaning with no bleach, and security guards cleaning toilets and areas such as lifts used by COVID-positive guests;
SECURITY guards used vinyl gloves and "unidentifiable'' hand sanitiser and gel;
THE food and beverage manager taking rubbish out of COVID-positive rooms;
TWENTY-six security guards at the Stamford Plaza contracted COVID-19;
A NURSE working at Rydges also worked at the Marriott hotel in the days before she tested positive, and became so ill she ended up in ICU;
SECURITY guards lied to contact tracers, falsely claiming they lived alone or were not working, costing valuable time as tracers tried to identify close contacts;
ONE Rydges guard failed to reveal he'd been in close contact with a flatmate, who then travelled to Queensland and tested positive; and
UNIFIED Security, the company which scored the majority of the security work, had previously had its application to be on the Government's preferred supplier list rejected.
TWO senior bureaucrats, who were sidelined from COVID-19 work, DHHS deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck and deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen, will both be called to give evidence.
The Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association Julian Rait said in a submission the quarantine system was rapidly set up by public servants with little input from disaster management experts.
"Somewhere along the line, the government didn't view engagement with these types of experts as being necessary," Prof Rait wrote.
The inquiry also tabled a submission from an experienced doctor, Nathan Pinskier, whose company was engaged to provide doctors to returned travellers.
Dr Pinskier said during his professional life the planning for a pandemic was almost non-existent, although he had attended a workshop at a doctor's forum in 2014 called the "Zombie Apocalypse" that "dealt broadly with the issue of a pandemic".
"No-one was remotely prepared for the pandemic and when it did arise the response was, in consequence, cobbled together in an ad hoc manner,'' he wrote.
Evidence was also provided showing security guards were paid a base rate of $21.49 - about the same as someone working at a fast food restaurant.
A DHHS report was tabled to the inquiry which concluded there was a "high risk of transmission'' from guests to staff working at the Rydges hotel, which had been deemed a "hot'' hotel exclusively for COVID-positive guests.
"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 the security staff, specifically, for the elevators used to transport COVID-positive cases,'' the report found.
"Because of this, there is a high likelihood of fomite (environmental/surface) spread from poor cleaning products being utilised, poor PPE use by security staff and a lack of education surrounding cleaning practises.
"At risk population include staff members from the hotel, DHHS staff, nurses and various other HCWs that were onsite to attend to the people in hotel quarantine. Outside of the hotel, there has been onwards household transmission to partners and housemates.''
Mr Ihle put to Dr Crouch that there was a "lost opportunity'' to stem the outbreak of the Rydges quarantine breach by immediately quarantining all staff. Apart from close contacts, staff were not stood down until after May 29, four days after the first case, and after six people working in the hotel tested positive.
"Yes, I would agree in retrospect…it would make sense, with what we know now, to quarantine the staff working across that period,'' Dr Crouch replied.
He said he could not identify who was in charge of infection control at Rydges or the Stamford.
Sarah McGuinness, a doctor seconded to the DHHS who worked on outbreak management, said some people contacted had provided false evidence about their close contacts
She said a person who tested positive had denied working outside their home, and it was only after their employer was interviewed they discovered the person had been working at a security guard at the Stamford hotel.
"Had we been provided with truthful and accurate information in the first instance, an (outbreak management team) could have been convened 48 hours earlier, and appropriate public health actions could have been implemented more rapidly.
Originally published as Rydges quarantine hotel outbreak 'inevitable'