Australia’s Victorian state government has announced a judicial inquiry into its hotel quarantine program amid scandalous allegations that, among other things, a contract worker at one of the hotels had sex with an infected guest.
Many of the state’s recent coronavirus cases have been traced back to private contractors working at two quarantine hotels in Melbourne—Stamford Plaza hotel and the Rydges on Swanston hotel—as authorities struggle to control a potential “second wave” of COVID-19 outbreaks around the city.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Thursday that the Victorian Government would provide $3 million to support the inquiry, and all international returned travellers will be diverted away from Melbourne for two weeks while the hotel quarantine program is reset.
“It is abundantly clear that what has gone on here is completely unacceptable and we need to know exactly what has happened,” he said.
Andrews previously suggested that one of Melbourne’s recent outbreaks could be attributed to security staff at a quarantine hotel sharing a lighter. More recently, however, reports have emerged that a contract security guard had sex with an isolating guest.
Officials have not confirmed these allegations. When asked about reports that security staff slept with guests in quarantine, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said “if those statements are true, that would be completely and utterly unacceptable, and we would encourage the Victorian authorities to throw the book at them if any of these individuals or the firms have behaved inappropriately.”
Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville also declined to confirm or deny the reports, saying that Justice Jennifer Coate, who is leading the inquiry, should be allowed to complete the investigation before any conclusions are made.
Minister Neville did, however, take a moment to denounce whoever is to blame for the recent spate of COVID-19 cases.
"I'm angry, whether it was individuals or companies did not take this seriously enough, and we've got this spread," she said. "I think they've let Victorians down."
The inquiry comes as two men tested positive to coronavirus after returning home to New South Wales and the Northern Territory on Thursday—each of them having just spent a fortnight in hotel quarantine in Melbourne.