Tag: Canberra

Hotel guards not my decision: Vic premier | The Canberra Times

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Premier Daniel Andrews has again said he played no role in deciding to use private security guards for Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, that led to the state’s deadly second coronavirus wave. In a fresh sworn statement tendered to the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry on Friday, Mr Andrews said he gave no advice or direction to the then-secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet Chris Eccles. “I expressed no view at all about the use of private security as part of the hotel quarantine program,” Mr Andrews wrote. “Decisions of that kind are of an operational nature in which I do not play a role.” The premier also said he was unaware at the time that Mr Eccles had spoken to then police commissioner Graham Ashton. He said none of the staff in his office could shed any light on who made the decision to use private security. The premier’s new affidavit to the hotel inquiry on Friday was part of a raft of new documents, including also those relating to Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton’s knowledge of the botched program. Professor Sutton was asked to provide a second sworn statement to the inquiry, after he at first gave evidence that he didn’t remember an email exchange with Euan Wallace about the quarantine program. In his new statement, Prof Sutton said he did recall emailing Professor Wallace on April 13, but he did not remember this when giving sworn evidence on September 16. “I now also have some recollection of speaking to Prof Wallace on the matters raised in those emails but do not recall that we came to any resolution or conclusion,” he said. Prof Sutton maintained that his public health team was not involved in the quarantine program and that they “did not have operational control” over parts of the public health response “for which they had a moral and perhaps legal responsibility.” He says the emails “highlight that public health were not in day-to-day decision making roles.” Victoria’s hotel quarantine program was established within 36 hours of a national cabinet meeting on March 27. Mr Ashton told the inquiry he learned private security would be used in the program sometime between 1.16pm and 1.22pm on March 27, but couldn’t recall who told him. Phone records established Mr Eccles spoke to Mr Ashton at 1.17pm. Mr Eccles resigned after the revelation, although he emphatically denied, and again in Friday’s documents, that he spoke to Mr Ashton about security. Outbreaks among security and hotel staff at Rydges and Stamford Plaza have been blamed for 99 per cent of Victoria’s COVID-19 second wave. The second wave resulted in more than 18,000 new infections and 750 deaths. Australian Associated Press

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Quarantine Aussie tells of hotel ‘debacle’ | The Canberra Times

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A returned Australian quarantining in a COVID-19 hotel in Adelaide has told of feeling “a bit like a leper” and of being treated “worse than prisoners” after being forced to endure four weeks in isolation. Alex Tweedie has been in the Peppers Hotel since arriving from South Africa late in October. She had been due to leave and return to Victoria earlier this month, but was told she had to stay another two weeks when a security guard at the hotel tested positive for the virus, triggering a cluster of cases. She described a shocking lack of communication from health officials in the reasons for her second stint in quarantine and said she was yet to receive written confirmation she would not be charged for the extra two weeks. Ms Tweedie said she, and other guests, were also concerned over what the problems surrounding the Peppers Hotel would mean for them when they returned to their home states. “It makes you feel a bit like a leper in all honesty,” she told an SA parliamentary inquiry on Friday. “I’ve had six tests, all of which were negative. There’s no threat to society as far as I’m concerned. “And there is going to be that same problem when we’re all going away on Monday. “How are people going to think about (us) when we return to our homes.” Ms Tweedie said she had three flights from South Africa cancelled before she eventually made it back to Australia in a process which she began in June. She told the inquiry that Australians returning from all over the world during the pandemic had been left to feel like second-rate citizens, prompting feelings of rejection from both the federal and state governments. While in quarantine she said there were people with food allergies being served meals they could not eat and, in her own case, the vegetarian diet provided was lacking in iron and protein. But she said the biggest problem with the issues surrounding the Peppers Hotel was a lack of communication with more information available through social media and the mainstream media than from authorities. “This lack of communication has been the biggest downfall in the whole debacle,” she said. “Lack of communication allows for false information and mistrust and that’s exactly what’s happened. You’ve lost our trust. “For nearly a week, we were not given a departure date, when we would be retested. “Essentially, during our additional quarantine, we were treated worst than prisoners.” Australian Associated Press

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SA Labor wants halt to hotel quarantine | The Canberra Times

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The South Australian opposition has reaffirmed calls for an end to the hotel quarantine system in Adelaide until a safer option can be found. The use of city hotels to keep returning Australians isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic has come in for criticism recently after a cluster of cases in Adelaide was linked back to one facility. A cleaner at the hotel picked up the virus and spread it to other members of her family. Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas says with the number of coronavirus cases surging overseas, the number of infections among returned travellers has also increased. “Continuing to accept international arrivals and putting them in CBD medi-hotels staffed by casual labour puts our state at greater risk of another outbreak,” Mr Malinauskas said. “This level of risk is simply unacceptable. “The only way to alleviate this risk is the immediate and indefinite end of the medi-hotel system in its current format until a safer solution is found.” But Premier Steven Marshall said other ideas, such as sending returned travellers to places like Christmas Island, was logistically impractical. As the so-called Parafield cluster emerged in Adelaide last week, the state government did put overseas flights on hold until at least December. On Sunday, SA had 37 active cases of COVID-19 but only 11 of those were returned travellers in hotel quarantine. Australian Associated Press

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COVID-19 travel restrictions scrapped in Victoria | The Canberra Times

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For the first time in months Melburnians will be free from COVID-19 travel restrictions within Victoria. Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday announced “families will be able to be together again” as he scrapped Melbourne’s 25km-from-home metropolitan travel limit and removed the city’s ‘ring of steel’ which had prevented people from visiting regional areas. The new rules start from midnight. “Both the 25km limit and the ring of steel, the metropolitan regional Victoria border, comes down as well,” he said. Travel freedom is set to expand again when the NSW border reopens to Victorians on November 23. Mr Andrew’s announcement coincided with the state’s ninth straight day without a new COVID-19 case. The 14-day average for daily cases in Melbourne sits at 0.4 and there are two cases with an unknown source. A number of other restrictions will also ease from Monday, including hospitality numbers increasing to 40 indoor patrons and 70 outdoor patrons. Health Minister Martin Foley on Saturday announced an enforcement blitz on businesses and workplaces posing a high risk of COVID-19 transmission would be conducted over the weekend. Compliance checks by police, Work Safe and the Department of Health and Human Services could see offenders hit with fines of up to $10,000. “Overwhelmingly Victorian businesses are doing the right thing,” Mr Foley told reporters on Saturday. The run of low or zero cases has allowed Victoria to welcome the first international flights to Melbourne since June 30, with the resumption of flights from New Zealand from Monday. Victoria’s COVID-19 death toll is 819, and 907 people have died from the virus across Australia. Australian Associated Press

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Inside hotel quarantine, the cracks are showing for one NSW family | The Canberra Times

news, latest-news, coronavirus, Taiwan, quarantine, adoption

In hotel rooms in Sydney, thousands of travelers arriving from overseas are bundled away behind locked doors. They are watching television, making video calls to their families, keeping children busy with toys and episodes of Bluey, and doing yoga on a patch of carpet (if they have one). A lot of them are resigned to the NSW hotel quarantine requirement, which has so far seen 86,000 people trapped inside for 14 days after arrival. There’s no doubt international arrivals have accounted for the majority of COVID-19 cases in NSW, and hotel quarantine has helped manage them. But – in light of both the National Hotel Quarantine Review recommendations to seek alternatives, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s admission last week that the system is “under pressure” – it’s hard to escape the thought that the program is past its use-by date. One NSW family, who arrived from Taiwan last week, agrees, and wants to draw attention to the unnecessary trauma that hotel quarantine is inflicting on already overwhelmed returning travelers. “We’re not saying we should be treated differently – we know there are others in really awful situations,” said Charles and Fiona, whose surname we have not used. “But we’re hoping that by speaking out, the Health Department will start to show more compassion and common sense across the board.” Charles and Fiona traveled to Taiwan – perhaps the gold-standard in coronavirus management, who haven’t had a locally acquired case since April – to pick up their newly adopted 11 month-old daughter. In Taiwan, as in many other countries, citizens and permanent residents are permitted to self-isolate using tracking systems. They traveled with their six year-old son (previously adopted from Taiwan) as it wasn’t an option to leave him for such a significant length of time. “We were also informed by adoption experts that the mental health impacts of leaving behind an adopted child, with his own history of abandonment and trauma, as we bonded with our new daughter would be extremely detrimental to his well-being,” Fiona said. They said that either choice was going to be very hard on their son. And they decided, along with the expert advice, for them to all stay together as a family. Nevertheless, the experience has severely affected their little boy’s mental health. Added to the trauma inherent in the life of their previously institutionalised daughter, Fiona and Charles have found their own mental health tested to extremes. “(Our son) started complaining about feeling like he can’t breathe,” said Fiona. “He has been scared about ‘hearing songs and voices in his head’ for the past few weeks. “He said the voice keeps repeating the same jumbled word and is getting louder. It is heartbreaking to watch him go through this.” Before leaving Australia, Fiona and Charles applied for a hotel quarantine exemption on compassionate grounds on the recommendation of adoption and medical experts. Adopted children have experienced trauma and so many disruptions it is considered essential to get them

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Call to think beyond hotel quarantine | The Canberra Times

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Australians returning from overseas could soon avoid 14-day hotel quarantine and instead wear monitoring bracelets, use mobile apps or isolate at home. A review by former health department boss Jane Halton was presented to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders on Friday. The review called on the national cabinet to consider new models of quarantine, saying while the 14-day hotel stay had served Australia well in the early days of the pandemic, it was time to look at other means. Possible alternatives included seven-day hotel quarantine combined with testing, the use of monitoring devices, home quarantine and travel corridors. On the issue of home quarantine, the report found the experience of the ACT had shown it can be effective with appropriate checks. “It is noteworthy that Australian businesses have indicated willingness to manage quarantine arrangements for essential workers, including through the use of wearable monitoring devices for low-risk travellers to ensure that businesses can continue to operate,” the report said. The review found hotel quarantine was difficult to endure, expensive and required a highly specialised workforce to support it. “Australia’s one-size-fits-all approach should be reconsidered to take account of greater knowledge of the virus, different prevalence in countries of origin of travellers, an understanding of how to incorporate risk-based approaches in system design and different models of quarantine made possible by new testing and monitoring arrangements.” Since the start of mandatory hotel quarantine, 851 travellers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 during their quarantine period – a positivity rate of only 0.66 per cent. The report said the system could be improved with better information provided to travellers, easier access to review processes and complaints mechanisms, an exemption for New Zealanders and a national facility for quarantine to be used for emergency situations. Australian Associated Press

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Drug mule’s Vic ‘vacation’ leads to prison | The Canberra Times

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A Canadian drug mule who came to Australian on a two-week vacation will spend at least five years in a Melbourne prison. Wayne Hackett arrived at Melbourne airport in February with four carry on suitcases and more than 15kg of pure methamphetamine – more than 20 times what Victoria’s courts consider to be a commercial amount. It had a wholesale value of up to $2.8 million. Hackett was to be paid $40,000 to bring the ice to Australia. The 27-year-old admitted possession of the drugs when interviewed by police and later pleaded guilty to the import. But though he knew he was carrying drugs, those behind the operation didn’t tell him what it was. The drugs were stashed in flat packages and hidden in the lining of the cases. County Court Judge Michael Bourke said Hackett was complicit in the smuggling of all the drugs, not just those in the two bags he was carrying. His girlfriend was also charged. She has pleaded not guilty and will go to trial. Hackett had lived a dysfunctional and disadvantaged life, Judge Bourke said. His parents separated when he was five and his mother drowned a few years later, in suspicious circumstances. He was raised by his abusive father and stepmother, and lived in a series of group homes before moving in with his mother’s parents, who remain supportive. Hackett had experienced homelessness after ending a relationship with the mother of his young daughter – an event that Judge Bourke said, with the addition of losing his job, led to his increased drug use. He had used cannabis since his teenage years, escalating to problematic cocaine use shortly before the offending. Judge Bourke described methamphetamine as a very damaging substance, and its spread as highly profitable for major entrepreneurs. While Hackett was no more than a courier, his role was critical to the operation. He said Hackett had shown good qualities in his life and an ability and desire to rehabilitate, but others had to be discouraged. “There must be the attempt to deter other prospective couriers of drugs into Australia,” Judge Bourke said. He was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years behind bars and will be eligible for parole in five years. Hackett will be deported after his release. Australian Associated Press

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