Victorian Hotels ‘Lacked COVID Cleaning Advice’

August 31, 2020 Updated: August 31, 2020

Victoria’s quarantine hotels were not provided with specific advice on cleaning procedures until mid-June, an inquiry into the program has heard.

Unni Menon, a senior executive at the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, was tasked on the afternoon of March 27 with contracting hotels to be used in the program just 48 hours later. 

He said the government contracts stipulated hotels would be responsible for general cleaning, and training staff in infection control and use of personal protective equipment.

Hotels were also contractually responsible for providing staff with PPE.

But rooms occupied by returned travellers who tested positive to COVID-19 would be cleaned by Department of Health and Human Services contractors.

There were no specific instructions provided to hotels for cleaning, except that it be at a “standard consistent with the most recent recommended public health standards in respect of COVID-19.”

“The onus first and foremost with the contract was for the suppliers to make sure that they have taken every reasonable effort to access information, to satisfy themselves that they were consistent with the practices and the recommended public health standards in respect of COVID-19,” Mr Menon told Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry on Aug. 31. 

He said a “three or four-page” brochure had been provided by the hotels association before the quarantine program began.

The brochure, created by the federal health department, detailed how COVID-19 is likely to spread and what cleaning practices and self-hygiene measures should be adopted.

Arthur Moses SC, the lawyer acting for security firm Unified Security, asked: “No formal written instructions were issued to or discussed with hotels on applicable infection control requirements at the time they entered into a formal agreements with the Department—correct?”

“There were no formal instructions that I received, that’s correct,” Menon replied.

Two days after the program began, Menon asked the DHHS for further advice regarding the “minimum acceptable standard of cleaning” required in hotel rooms and public areas. 

He also asked if there was a difference in cleaning standards for rooms where guests with COVID-19 had stayed versus non-infected guests.

It wasn’t until late April he received some further information from the DHHS, instructing hotels to use the “hottest possible water to wash clothes or linen.”

Detailed cleaning advice was not circulated to hotels until June 17.

“This had significant detail and level of prescription in terms of cleaning and disinfection,” Menon said of the advice.

By mid-June, coronavirus had already spread from returned travellers at the Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Plaza hotels to staff.

It went on to cause Victoria’s second wave of the virus, killing hundreds and forcing millions into the nation’s toughest lockdown.

Claire Harris QC, the lawyer acting for the Department of Health and Human Services, said there was information available online from March 22 for workplaces, including hotels, about COVID-19 cleaning.

The inquiry, headed by retired Judge Jennifer Coate, will continue public hearings on Sept. 2.

By Benita Kolovos