Victoria’s health department faces court over botched hotel quarantine program

Caroline Schelle NCA NewsWire
Not Supplied
Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Victoria’s botched hotel quarantine program is back in the spotlight as the state’s health department faces millions in fines for allegedly putting staff at “risk of serious illness or death”.

The state’s workplace watchdog WorkSafe hit the department with 58 charges in September after a 15-month investigation into the program allegedly found serious work safety violations.

Health Department lawyer Morgan McLay told the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday said it was a “voluminous” evidence brief and experts may be needed.

“There’s some need for some expert involvement in terms of understanding the matters that are put by the authority,” Mr McLay told the court.

Rydges Hotel
Camera IconRydges on Swanston St in Melbourne was the centre of an outbreak that sparked Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus cases. NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty Credit: News Corp Australia

The safety watchdog would not be relying on any CCTV footage in the case, WorkSafe lawyer Ariadne French said.

The alleged breaches include failing to appoint infection prevention and control experts at quarantine hotels, failing to provide security guards with adequate training and failing to provide updated written instructions.

“In all charges, WorkSafe alleges that Department of Health employees, Victorian Government Authorised Officers on secondment, or security guards were put at risk of serious illness or death through contracting COVID-19 from an infected returned traveller, another person working in the hotels or from a contaminated surface,” the watchdog said in a statement last month.

Camera IconVictorian Premier Daniel Andrews apologised for the “clear errors” in the hotel quarantine program. NCA NewsWire / David Crosling Credit: Supplied

The bungled $195 million quarantine program sparked an inquiry and retired judge Jennifer Coate said in her final report aired in December no one took ownership of the decision to use private security guards.

Coronavirus outbreaks at Melbourne’s Rydges on Swanston Street and Stamford Plaza Hotel, where returned travellers were being quarantined, led to 99 per cent of Victoria’s second wave of Covid-19 cases and 801 deaths.

The maximum penalty for a body corporate for each of the charges is $1.64 million, according to WorkSafe.

The evidence brief will be ready in December but the court case will return to court early next year.

Originally published as Victoria’s health department faces court over botched hotel quarantine program

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