A senior public servant who was responsible for managing infection control protocols for Victoria’s hotel quarantine program has been stood down following reports of alleged compliance breaches.
Matiu Bush, who has been involved in the program since June, was stood down by Victorian Police Minister Danny Pearson on May 4 after it was revealed by The Australian that he refused to undergo a mandatory test when visiting one of the quarantine sites. Bush has been stood down with full pay.
“Last night I become aware of reports in relation to Mr Bush and I formed the opinion overnight that Mr Bush needs to be stood down pending a review,” Pearson said on May 5, reported The Australian.
“That’s not what I expect from a senior leader, a senior manager with CQV (COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria) and that’s why I felt the most appropriate thing to do was for Mr Bush to be stood down pending that review.”
According to The Australian, it is alleged that Bush had to be counselled for initially refusing to undergo a mandatory test after visiting the Intercontinental Hotel at 12.05 p.m. on April 20.
“I’m the head of IPC and I override that protocol,” Bush reportedly told an Australian Defence Force (ADF) member working at the hotel.
The ADF member then referred Bush to Victoria Police in the hotel lobby, but Bush then “proceeded to leave the hotel without signing out,” according to The Australian.
Emma Cassar, head of CQV, said Bush was tested at another location on the same day.
On another occasion, Bush, IPC director Giulietta Pontivivo and another staffer, entered the Pullman Hotel at 12:57 p.m, according to The Australian.
When asked to sign-in through their personal QR code, the trio refused saying that had been vaccinated and were not required to sign-in, but instead manually signed the visitor log.
Later at 3:30 p.m. they entered the Mercure Hotel main entrance as another person was leaving the hotel.
“Both walked past the sanitising station without sanitising and also did not change masks,” the incident report obtained by The Australian says. “When approached by reception staff they said (they) had ducked out for coffee, and that the hotel is empty anyway. They were asked to sign in and said they had done so at the Pullman.”
Bush “did not sign out upon his departure from the hotel,” and was subsequently reported as an IPC breach.
“From an IPC (Infection Prevention and Control) perspective, the risk was minimal, if not zero,” Cassar said, though she conceded their behaviour was not befitting of a leader.
Other incidents reported by The Australian include contractors and bureaucrats being allowed to enter or trying to enter hotel sites in Melbourne despite not be being vaccinated, as is required.
While nearly all were told to leave once their vaccination status was known, in some cases it was not checked when they entered.
The incidents reportedly occurred at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport, Novotel and IBIS at Melbourne Central, InterContinental Melbourne and Sheraton’s Four Points Hotel.
The Nebuliser and Victoria’s Third Lockdown
Documents obtained by The Australian also claim that Victoria’s third lockdown in February was not caused by a man using a nebuliser at the Holiday Inn.
The outbreak sparked a five-day lockdown of the state in mid-February.
According to the leaked report, the “proposed working hypothesis” was that the leak was caused by a staff member who swabbed a woman in an open doorway inside the hotel. The virus then spread through the corridor, before ”pooling outside the door” of the room where the man with the nebuliser was staying with his partner and infant.
But, Cassar denies this claim and maintained that the state’s third lockdown was “caused by the nebuliser”—a claim also maintained by Acting Premier James Merlino.
“The nebuliser was a significant contributor to that outbreak, full stop,” Merlino said parliamentary question time on May 5.
Merlino also told reporters the incidents proved hotel quarantine was not a “fit for purpose model.”
In response, Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the Andrews government was not addressing the flaws in the state’s quarantine system.
“Today’s revelations of breaches prove the government has not learnt the lessons from those tragic deaths or from the inquiry that followed,” he said.
“A minister is responsible for everything that occurs—why has no minister taken responsibility for these shocking failures and resigned?
“Every single day we see new evidence that this government still hasn’t got hotel quarantine right,” he told reporters.
However, Merlino said: “If we took advice from the Liberal party, we’d still be in lockdown.”
Victoria recorded 2 new cases of COVID-19 from returned overseas travellers in the 24 hours to midnight on May 5. Both people are in hotel quarantine. No new locally acquired cases were recorded.
8,163 people were immunised at the state’s vaccination hubs on May 5.
AAP contributed to this report.