The deadly coronavirus outbreak in Australia’s worst-hit state of Victoria stemmed almost entirely from a hotel quarantine scheme intended to house returned overseas travellers, an inquiry revealed on Tuesday.
Since June, Victoria has experienced a resurgence of the virus, peaking at 725 daily infections on August 5 and prompting a return to strict lockdowns, including a nightly curfew in the state capital of Melbourne, reports Xinhua news agency.
Ben Howden, medical microbiologist and infectious diseases physician, told an inquiry into the scheme that according to genomic sequencing, 99 per cent of Victoria’s cases as of late July could be traced back to people returning from overseas.
While Howden did not refer directly to the hotel quarantine programs or those within it, it has been the policy of the Australian government to house all returning travellers in hotel quarantine, operated at a state level since March.
With Victoria’s daily case numbers subsiding in recent weeks, attention has turned firmly to the failures of the hotel quarantine system, with allegations that it was badly mishandled allowing for the infection to spread into the community.
Evidence has shown multiple lapses of protocol by security guards who critics say were not sufficiently trained or equipped to be working in virus containment.
Microbiologist and infectious disease expert Lindsay Grayson, told the inquiry that an online training program for the guards was “confusing” and “misleading.”
“The majority of it is like a training module for the general public, rather than someone who is going to come into direct contact or be responsible for managing COVID patients,” Grayson said.
Barrister Tony Neal said Victoria’s hotel quarantine program “fell short of its goal” to prevent COVID-19 spreading into the community.
Neal added that the inquiry would seek to determine who was responsible for overseeing the program and whether the training of staff was sufficient.
As of Tuesday, Australia’s overall coronavirus caseload stood at 23,599, with 421 deaths.
Victoria accounts for 17,027 of the total cases, with 334 fatalities.