COVID-19 quarantine workers move between hotels and offices
Healthcare Australia has not allowed staff to work from home, meaning the company’s office is near capacity.
Chief executive Jason Cartwright told an online all-staff meeting that the “bludger factor” meant some workers lied about working, and said customers “don’t won’t want to see us on the couch…watching Netflix.”
Last year, Mr Cartwright advised Victoria’s Department of Justice and Community Safety on health protocols for the revamped hotel scheme.
A worker said the company’s crowded office exacerbated the likelihood of an outbreak if any of the employees who worked in quarantined hotels unknowingly contracted COVID-19 and entered the building.
“They don’t care about our safety,” the worker said. “They are putting this hotel project and this profit before our well-being, whether physical – in terms of not contracting COVID – or mental.”
Some Healthcare Australia doctors continued to work in private clinics as well as in hotels, age unveiled in December. Physicians, who are using telehealth where possible, are wearing full personal protective equipment when dealing with returning travellers. No Healthcare Australia employees have been infected with COVID-19.
Australian Medical Association Victorian President Julian Rait said staff moving between quarantine sites had been strongly discouraged as it poses an infection control risk. However, he said the risk could be minimized if workers used appropriate PPE in hotels.
Many quarantine hotel workers, including resident support workers, are employed by the government, but some, including medical specialists and cleaners, work for private contractors.
The hotel quarantine has been suspended due to the second wave of COVID-19 infections triggered by hotel leaks, which left Melbourne locked down for months and claimed 768 lives.
This system was investigated by a commission of inquiry headed by Judge Jennifer Coate after the inquiry was commissioned by Prime Minister Daniel Andrews. After the inquiry reported its findings in December, Mr Andrews said he intended to adopt all of its recommendations.
The commission of inquiry’s scathing final report identified flaws in nearly every aspect of the government’s handling of the hotel quarantine program and its oversight.
Victoria recorded two local cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, both linked to the Holiday Inn outbreak which has risen to 19 people. Mr Andrews said the state was “very well placed” to lift the five-day lockdown at the scheduled time of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. A final decision will be made on Wednesday, he said.
Of the 16 locally acquired cases in Victoria, the Department of Health revealed on Tuesday that four are residents of Moreland, two live in Brimbank, two live in Hume, three live in Wyndham, one is a resident of Greater Dandenong, one lives in Moonee Valley and three reside on the highway.
Healthcare Australia, which operates nationally and is involved in the federal government’s rollout of the vaccine, has struggled to recruit enough doctors to work in hotels since the scheme was relaunched in December after the halt international flights in July.
In response to the recent hotel quarantine outbreak in Melbourne, Victorian health networks informed doctors they could not work in hospitals if they were also working in quarantine hotels, prompting a further tightening of supply of doctors.
Difficulties in recruiting dozens of doctors for the city’s hotel program may portend difficulties in hiring a dedicated workforce at the new quarantine facilities at Avalon or Melbourne Airport in a fly-out model. in-fly-out that some experts have advocated.
The two “hot” hotels – where returning travelers who contract COVID-19 are staying – are staffed by clinical staff from Alfred Health who follow infection control procedures comparable to those in hospitals.
The nine cold hotels have less stringent measures because a much lower proportion of guests have COVID-19, but the recent Holiday Inn outbreak has highlighted the risk posed by travelers returning to cold hotels that are not immediately tested positive.
Dr Rait said the same PPE and infection control rules – including mandatory use of high-quality N95 masks and gowns – should be applied in hot and cold hotels.
“You should assume every traveler is infected until proven otherwise,” he said, while noting that it could be difficult to hire enough staff to maintain the more resource-intensive clinical model run by Alfred Health.
Mr Andrews said on Monday infection control standards in cold hotels were high, but argued there was a fundamental difference between ‘presumed risk’ when it comes to people being tested negative compared to those known to have the virus.
Want to know more about the hotel quarantine program? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org safely.
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