Health Department in Australia Charged With 58 COVID-19 Breaches Over Bungled Quarantine Program

By Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
September 30, 2021 Updated: September 30, 2021

The Victorian Department of Health has been formally charged over the state’s bungled hotel quarantine program, which saw an outbreak of the CCP virus in the southern Australian state in 2020.

WorkSafe Victoria said in a statement on Sept. 29, it had laid 58 charges against the Department of Health (DOH), including 17 breaches of Section 21 (1) of the Operational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, after the DOH was alleged to have failed to provide and maintain a safe working environment for its employees.

A further 41 charges were laid over breaches Section 23 (1) of the OHS Act, alleging the DOH failed to ensure that persons other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks.

“In all charges, WorkSafe alleges that DOH 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 statement read.

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Police stand guard outside an inner-city hotel where travellers returned from overseas after staying in isolation in Melbourne, Australia on March 30, 2020. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

The breaches were alleged to have occurred between March 2020 to July 2020, while the DOH was running Operation Soteria—Victoria’s first hotel quarantine program.

Some major problems being levelled at the Department was its failure to provide expert training to security guards for face-to-face infection prevention control (IPC) prior to commencing work.

Breaches from Operation Soteria seeded Australia’s second wave of the pandemic, which saw the city of Melbourne placed under one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 lockdowns.

WorkSafe also alleged DOH failed or initially failed, to provide written instruction for the use of PPE, and to update written instructions relating to the wearing of masks at several of the hotels. Further, it failed to appoint people with infection prevention and control (IPC) expertise.

The Victorian government, led by state Premier Daniel Andrews, has refused to provide comment due to the legal proceedings.

The DOH faces a maximum penalty for each charge of $1.64 million, totalling $95.1 million (US $68.4 million).

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Workers assist people leaving the Holiday Inn in Melbourne, Australia, on Feb. 16, 2021. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

The charges against the DOH come following criticism from Victoria’s Opposition Minister for Health Georgie Crozier who accused the Andrews government of keeping Victorians in the dark over issues with the quarantine program.

In a statement, Crozier accused the government of refusing to release reports into the inadequacy of infection control protocols within the hotel quarantine program, despite a Freedom of Information request in April 2021.

She claimed the request was delayed before the Andrews government denied full access to the reports, thereby “blocking the truth.”

“With over 3,000 incidents occurring within Labor’s hotel quarantine program between November 2020 and June 2021, Victorians deserve to know the truth about what is going wrong and why,” the statement added.

“This is yet again an attempt by the Andrews Labor government to cover up its failings in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “Victorians deserve to know the truth about the extent of these systematic hotel quarantine failings and to be able to judge them accordingly for their actions.”