Victoria’s descent into a new wave of infections started amid a scandal over quarantine and security breaches in a series of Melbourne hotels.
Last month, Melbourne’s quarantine hotels were identified as a key source behind the virus’s terrifying escalation throughout the state.
Since March, all travellers returning from overseas have been made to isolate for 14 days in their hotel rooms.
But a scandal over quarantine and security breaches in a series of Melbourne hotels helped create the city’s predicament today – millions of Australians in stage 4 lockdown, with more than 650 cases announced on Sunday alone.
A Sunday night 60 Minutes special looked into how things went so terribly wrong for Victoria.
‘CHEAP AND NASTY PRODUCT’: SECURITY SYSTEM SLAMMED
Private security contractors who were involved in Victoria’s hotel quarantine system have been blamed for the bungled quarantine program.
Several insiders said the use of private subcontractors without medical training to run the system meant hired staff were not properly trained or given personal protective equipment, and did not take the job as seriously as they should have.
Josh Reeve, a security veteran who specialises in A-list clients, said the private security company hired by the Victorian government was a “botched program”.
“Unfortunately, it’s the result of a cheap and nasty product,” he told 60 Minutes.
“The reputation of the security industry at the moment in most people’s eyes is that it’s ineffective – and through some of the things that we have seen alleged is worse than ineffective.
“I think the fact that the industry has that reputation indicates it it’s as bad as it could be. It’s negligent, it’s complacent.”
Even guards who were deployed to the hotel security assignment said it was poorly organised.
One guard, given the alias “John” in the segment, worked at six of Melbourne’s 12 quarantine hotels for two months.
John was first contacted back in April, three weeks after the Victorian government announced plans to hire private security firms to guard quarantine hotels.
He said the caller who hired him was more interested in his readiness than his experience.
“He was a subcontractor and asked me if I’m still willing to work in security. I said, ‘Yeah, of course I am’. So he said, ‘Okay, you just WhatsApp me your license and your availability”.
John said it was “a bit strange” that he heard from the caller via WhatsApp, noting it was “totally unprofessional” and revealing there was no formal interview or training.
“When I reached there, I asked him, ‘So what are my duties and what am I supposed to do?’ He said, ‘Go on this floor and ask the security guard what you’re supposed to do’.
“I went on the floor and the other security guard was like, ‘It’s also my first day here’. And that’s a bit strange.
“He told me that if someone comes out of the room, we just have to tell them to stay inside. That’s it. That was my induction or whatever you call it.”
One of the six hotels John worked at was the Rydges on Swanston, where a cluster of guards became infected with COVID-19.
“Everyone was sitting outside of their rooms without any PPE, because they told us not to wear any mask,” he told the program.
But he said the real problem was when the guards’ shifts ended. Situated next to the Rydges Hotel was a 7-Eleven and a KFC. Guards with COVID-19 would go there during their breaks – not knowing they had the virus and were unwittingly spreading it.
John also claimed some of the guards were falling asleep on the job, saying they were working up to 84 hours a week.
Returning travellers Ricky Singh and Kate Hyslop, who were put in hotel quarantine for two weeks, told the program they were not once tested for the virus during that period.
They said their biggest fear was the security guards outside their door, because they “weren’t wearing masks” and “would sleep on the ground”.
“Quite often they wouldn’t even hear us open our door because they’d have their earphones in and be on the phone, or talking with another security guard and having a laugh. It just seemed like the whole idea of hotel quarantine was a joke at that point.”
‘THERE’S NO PROPER REGULATION’
Four months ago, when the Victorian government approached security firms to guard the quarantine hotels, three security companies won the contract.
These companies were MSS, Unified and Wilson Security.
But they didn’t call security guards directly. Rather, they used industry subcontractors, who would recruit security guards for the hotels.
One subcontractor, named “Roger” on the program, told 60 Minutes that “anyone can do anything” under the system.
“There’s no proper regulation,” he said. “Who’s getting work, who’s not getting work – there’s no criteria. It’s like anyone can do anything.”
He said subcontractors found and approached security guards from websites like Seek and Gumtree.
Claims that guards had sex with infected guests at either the Rydges Hotel or the Stamford Plaza were also aired on breakfast TV and in Victorian newspapers last month.
The Herald Sun reported allegations that hotel guards slept with guests staying at the hotels during quarantine.
It was also alleged guests were allowed to move between rooms under the watch of guards hired by private security firms.
Roger said he had been aware of these rumours. “I was told that a guard had sex with a guest, yes,” he said.
A judicial inquiry will look into the claims and reported failings of Victoria’s hotel quarantine system.
John agreed that the behaviour of some of his colleagues was appalling, but he said the blame ultimately fell on his bosses for not training and vetting the guards.
“It’s gross negligence. Absolutely.”