Limited Medical Supplies Amid Failed COVID-19 Quarantine Efforts in Australian State, Nurses Say

August 21, 2020 Updated: August 22, 2020

Nurses told an inquiry on Victoria’s failed hotel quarantine program about a chaotic first week of limited medical supplies for COVID-19 testing and PPE shortages posing risks to infection control protocols.

Veteran nurse, Michael Tait, joined the hotel quarantine program at the time of its inception on March 29. Through a nurse agency named Your Nurse Agency (YNA), he worked at four quarantine hotels, including Rydges on Swanston, one of two locations noted as the source of 99 percent of Victoria’s CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus cases since June.

Tait told the COVID-19 Hotel quarantine inquiry on Aug. 20 that he was later blacklisted from working in the hotel quarantines program after sending an email in April voicing his concerns over infection control risks.

He wrote “[Crown] Metropol is struggling. We are taking care of 700 plus residents, lots of children … we have a challenging task, taking care of 150 folks each.”

Tait called the first shift chaotic, noting limited personal protective equipment provided to nurses where there were just three gowns, no gloves, and a handful of surgical masks.

Each guest was meant to be tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

However, due to an insufficient supply of swab kits, testing of returnees was intentionally kept at low numbers. Tait said that throughout his first five days at Crown Promenade only 25 guests were tested for the CCP virus.

“The nurses were also hesitant to do swabs because we did not have adequate PPE to protect ourselves. We didn’t have medium gloves until day four. We did not get N95 masks until day eight. We never got hoods, face shields or shoe coverings even though we were told we would,” he said.

“No one had a clear-cut idea for how we were going to manage (COVID-19) positive patients.”

Tait told the inquiry he took it upon himself to conduct swabbing tests on new arrivals despite not having a face shield—risking COVID-19 infection. “I thought it was very important.”

In further comments on Victoria’s Department of Human Health Services (DHHS) policies, Tait criticised their paper-based record-keeping system, saying that “rules for guests seemed to change every day, if not every hour.”

Another nurse who worked at the Park Royal Hotel at Melbourne airport for four weeks expressed similar concerns. She is also a YNA worker and known only as Jen for legal reasons. She said record-keeping by the DHHS was so infrequent that she created her own spreadsheet to keep track of up to 300 hotel quarantine guests.

This impacted the consistency of daily checks. Jen said one family was neglected for a week.

“It was very obvious that the DHHS were having a hard time keeping a track of who was in the hotel and when,” she said.

Jen was also not given any more shifts after raising concerns.

Senior counsel assisting the inquiry Tony Neal said on Aug. 17 that Victoria’s hotel quarantine system was set up without clarity of responsibilities, control, supervision and management.

The inquiry will resume on Aug. 24 with hotel security staff due to give evidence.