Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton was not responsible for overseeing compliance within the state’s hotel quarantine program, an inquiry into the ill-fated scheme has heard.
- Professor Sutton told the inquiry his team provided infection control advice to the “large beast” of bureaucracy
- But he said once the advice was given, he did not have a role in monitoring compliance
- The inquiry also heard Professor Sutton’s team opted not to use laws to force individuals to be tested
Professor Sutton told today’s hearing his public health team provided advice and directions on personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning policies for the hotels.
But he said once the advice was provided to the massive bureaucratic task force, which he referred to as a “large beast”, his team was unaware about whether the directions were actually being followed.
Counsel assisting, Ben Ihle, probed Professor Sutton about the extent of his team’s role.
“Is it fair to say that [your team] doesn’t have oversight of how they’re [health directions] being proliferated and complied with?” Mr Ihle asked.
“Yes I think that’s a fair statement,” Mr Sutton replied.
“Oversighting that guidance or policy directions was not part of our purview,” he later said.
Professor Sutton said his team was responsible for advice on how PPE, cleaning and hygiene should be observed across “innumerable settings” across the state.
Sutton elected not to use ‘coercive powers’
Professor Sutton also told the hearing that his office decided not to use sections of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act that can compel individuals to be tested.
The Act can also prohibit “particular activities” and force people to quarantine, irrespective of whether a public health emergency is declared by the state government.
Professor Sutton said he did not consider them, explaining that the rules usually applied to certain individuals for diseases like hepatitis.
He also told the inquiry key sections of his public health team felt it was unnecessary.
“There haven’t been cases … where they felt such coercive powers would be beneficial to them,” he said.
Some travellers may have left quarantine while infected
Professor Sutton conceded testing at the hotels could have been strengthened, given it was never made mandatory.
He said he knew of one person in quarantine who tested positive to the virus after leaving the Stamford Plaza hotel and then infected the person who drove them home.
“If you want to make [hotel quarantine] robust as possible, making more stringent requirements for testing is a reasonable consideration,” he said.
Asked whether it was possible people had left hotel quarantine with the virus, he answered: “That is potentially the case, they would have been questioned on the basis of their symptoms and would have declared that they were symptom-free.”
“Part of the reflection on strengthening the testing regimen in hotel quarantine is for that very purpose.”
On Tuesday, the inquiry heard Emergency Management Victoria Commissioner Andrew Crisp did not believe Australian Defence Force troops were needed to support the hotel quarantine program.