Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says he first learned about problems with the workforce in Victoria’s hotel quarantine system from the media.
- There is no evidence of original virus in the genomics reports, Professor Sutton said
- Victoria has more than 7,600 active cases and has so far recorded 181 deaths
- Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says “it should never have got to this” in Victoria
Tensions are running high over the lingering questions surrounding the system’s failures, which are believed to be responsible for the state’s second wave of COVID-19 infections.
After a grilling of Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday that yielded few detailed answers, Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton was asked what he knew about hotel quarantine failures.
“Obviously we were aware of outbreaks at the Stamford Hotel and the Rydges Hotel that my public health team responded to as outbreaks, so we were aware of the transmission that occurred,” he said.
He said it appeared the Stamford outbreak was more contained than that at the Rydges, but he didn’t know the proportions.
No trace of ‘original virus’ from February
An inquiry into the hotel quarantine scheme has been delayed due to stage 4 lockdown restrictions. But its head — former judge Jennifer Coate — this week said the inquiry did not mean those in authority could not answer questions about the scheme.
That prompted further media scrutiny of who within government was aware of problems with the scheme, and what action was taken to rectify them.
Professor Sutton said it only became clear to him that infection control breaches at the hotels were linked to cases cropping up in the community after a genomics report came in.
“[That] was when I was aware a very significant proportion of our current cases were linked to hotel quarantine,” he said, adding he didn’t suspect hotel quarantine errors were responsible for the outbreak before then.
“It was information that was only available when that genomics report was through. We didn’t have the epidemiological links back to hotel quarantine that allowed us to link all of those cases.”
That echoed responses from Mr Andrews yesterday, who said he publicly revealed those links hours after being briefed on the genomic report on June 30 and set up the inquiry.
Professor Sutton was asked if Victoria had eliminated community transmission of the deadly virus before it seeped out of hotel quarantine.
“It’s impossible to say,” he said.
“But we haven’t tested everyone. Not everyone can have the virus grown. For those who can have the virus grown, not everyone gets that genetic fingerprint.
“So we can’t say for those individuals where we haven’t got the genetic fingerprint, but where we do, there isn’t evidence of virus that goes back to February, March, April.”
Emotions run high as second wave takes toll
Federal Treasurer and Victorian MP Josh Frydenberg told Sky News that hotel quarantine failures were a matter for the Victorian Premier to explain, but that he wouldn’t engage in a “slanging match” in the media.
“What happened in hotel quarantine were significant failures that cannot be repeated.”
His voice cracked when speaking about the impact of COVID-19 on Victorians.
“We are in a state of crisis right now,” he said.
“The emotional toll on Victorian families, on young women who are trying to home school their kids and hold down a job at the same time, on grandparents who are not seeing their kids, on businesses that have had to close their doors with millions of people uncertain about their future — they’re the real issues.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked if he was disappointed about the Victorian Government’s handling of the quarantine process.
“I’ll leave disappointment, frustration, anger — all entirely understandable in [the] circumstances — to others. But I don’t think as Prime Minister I can indulge those feelings for myself,” Mr Morrison said.
He added all leaders of governments would have to answer questions, be transparent and face the consequences of their decisions.
When Mr Andrews was asked about whether he had made his own enquiries to find out who was responsible for the hotel quarantine scheme, he said he wouldn’t “grade his own paper” and would instead wait for the outcome of the inquiry.
Mr Andrews was asked how he personally was holding up.
He has fronted the media 35 days straight, but said he would be back at the podium on Saturday and Sunday.
Professor Sutton was asked about false reports of his retirement and denied any friction in his role.
He said he was confident he would remain at the helm throughout the pandemic.