Victoria's Contact Tracing Flaws to Be Laid Bare

Victoria's Contact Tracing Flaws to Be Laid Bare
Medical professionals are seen at Kilmore Soldiers Memorial Hall in Kilmore, Australia on Oct. 10, 2020. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Victoria will learn if its contact tracing shortcomings have been remedied since the system was "overwhelmed" during the state's deadly second wave.

A report into the state's contract tracing program will be tabled in Victorian parliament on Dec. 14 after it was put under the microscope by an upper house inquiry.

Headed by Reason Party MP Fiona Patten, the parliamentary inquiry probed issues with contact tracing across the second wave—which led to more than 18,000 infections and 800 deaths—and the regime's readiness to quash future outbreaks.

Alan Finkel, who conducted a review of the nation's contact tracing capabilities, said Victoria's system wasn't designed for the influx of coronavirus cases it experienced.

"Unless you are fully prepared for that in terms of training, anticipation and preventative measures to slow the rate of increase in the first place, it's easy to get overwhelmed and yes, Victoria was overwhelmed," he told the parliamentary inquiry on Nov. 18.

Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the system broke down as cases climbed above 200, but he was "confident" infections would not rise to that point again.

If they do, newly-appointed Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Euan Wallace estimated improvements would mean Victoria "could cope with 500 new cases a day".

The inquiry previously heard the state's system was largely paper-based and relied on contact tracers to manually enter information into an IT system, with Finkel suggesting some cases were lost or duplicated.

Victoria has since moved to a digitised system, created by US tech firm Salesforce, which automates the process end to end.

Salesforce's Pip Marlow told the inquiry the software was first offered to the government in March, but it wasn't until July 24 that the government requested a presentation from the company.

A contract between the two parties was signed in late August, with the system due to be fully integrated by this month.

Prof Wallace argued it wouldn't have been a sound idea to make the switch earlier, even though the old IT platform hampered the identification of confirmed cases as it didn't sort negative and positive test results.

"I don't think anyone would contemplate at the height of the pandemic ... 'let's down tools and build a brand new platform'," he said.

"That just isn't an appropriate decision."

AMA Victorian President Julian Rait also accused DHHS of having cultural flaws over its perceived reluctance to confront imperfection in its COVID-19 response.

Callum Godde in Melbourne