A security guard was offered a job to work at one of Melbourne’s coronavirus quarantine hotels via a WhatsApp message and was told to bring her own protective equipment.
Shayla Shakshi told ABC’s 7.30 she was offered the jobs through the messaging app, saying she got told what to wear, what time she had to be there, where she would be placed and the pay rate.
Victoria’s hotel quarantine program is now the subject of a judicial inquiry after the government hired subcontractors from private security firms to watch over international arrivals in quarantine.
Ms Shakshi told the ABC she worked at the Stamford Plaza in May and said she didn’t receive any training on the job or instructed how to correctly use personal protective equipment (PPE).
“They just didn't tell us what training we had to do, we just had to put a mask on, put gloves on, and that's it,” she said.
After her first day, Ms Shakshi was advised she was to bring her own PPE in the future, due to so many guards being on site, supplies might run out.
It was after that she decided going back again was not worth it.
On May 27, an outbreak was identified at Rydges on Swanston, the hotel told the ABC it had no part in hiring security personnel, was operating under the direction of various state government departments and will cooperate fully with the inquiry.
Melbourne’s quarantine hotels subject of judicial inquiry
Stamford Plaza, another hotel with a large outbreak, was also put on notice by the inquiry along with Travelodge Melbourne, Park Royal Hotel Melbourne Airport, Holiday Inn Melbourne and Four Points Sheraton.
The eight security companies of interest to the inquiry are Wilson Security, United Risk Management, Unified Security Group, Ultimate Protection Services, MSS security, Elite Protection Services, Australian Protection Group and Security Hub.
The inquiry was announced on July 2, following allegations of under-trained staff, lack of PPE, billing rorts by private security contractors and claims hotel guards slept with quarantine guests.
Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told ABC Radio on July 13 that it was conceivable all current cases in Victoria at the time, could be traced back to outbreaks stemming from the hotel quarantine system.
Four days later, on July 17, 428 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed, the record daily total in an Australia state since the start of the pandemic.
Ms Shakshi claimed some of the guards were not taking coronavirus seriously, she told the ABC some were embracing each other, joking around and hitting each other.
“They were taking it as a joke, like, oh, it's just some virus that anyone can get. You know, we're not going to get it,” she said, adding she was glad she did not return after her first shift.
The state government investigation is being headed by retired judge Jennifer Coate and decisions and communications between the government, hotel operators and private contractors will be examined and submissions have been ordered from them by the end of July.
‘Quarantine program a complete and utter debacle’
Opposition leader Michael O'Brien previously said the hotel quarantine program had been a complete and utter debacle, and demanded the sacking of Health Minister Jenny Mikakos.
"The government decided to put in place poorly trained unqualified private security guards to look after hotel quarantine," he said.
This was in contrast to the NSW hotel quarantine operation which deployed police and ADF staff to monitor the hotels.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said the role of police in hotel quarantine was to provide assistance for returned travellers and help make sure they reached their accommodation, not to supervise the hotel security.
Police Minister Lisa Neville on Thursday added that government and agencies had little time to implement the quarantine program, saying the inquiry will scrutinise the decision-making during that process.
Medical experts, hotel staff and returned travellers who stayed in quarantine will be called to give evidence, however it is not clear if Premier Daniel Andrews, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos or Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton will be called.
Employers face significant penalties if they attempt to deter employees from giving evidence to the inquiry.
International flights to Victoria have been diverted until the situation is under control and now the hotel quarantine program is managed by Corrections Victoria.
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