Workers at Melbourne’s Rydges on Swanston hotel were not ordered to self-isolate after a staff member tested positive for coronavirus, with the manager saying he was acting on advice from Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
- The Rydges outbreak has been blamed for 90 per cent of Victoria’s current COVID-19 cases
- Hotel managers have told the inquiry about more complaints with security guards
- One manager said returned travellers “could be hostile”
An inquiry into the failed Victorian hotel quarantine program has previously heard 90 per cent of the state’s second wave of COVID-19 emanated out of Rydges, after a family of four were detained at the venue when they returned to Australia in late May.
By mid-June, the virus had spread to 20 others working at the hotel before thousands of cases were identified in the community in the weeks that followed.
Mr Menezes said his hotel had “learnt a lot” after an outbreak.(Supplied: COVID-19 Hotel Inquiry)
On Friday, Rydges general manager Rosswyn Menezes said he found out his colleague had tested positive on May 26.
Mr Menezes said he ordered all staff who had worked in the weeks prior to come in and get tested.
“When I got tested I asked [the] DHHS team leader on site: ‘Should we self-isolate straight away?’ And I believe what we were advised at that point was we did not have to because we’re not a close contact,” he told the inquiry.
“That’s why nobody was stood down at that point.”
Mr Menezes said he received a call from the department on May 30, telling him that everyone who had worked in the building over a certain period had to self-isolate for 14 days.
Mystery of how virus spread from guests to workers
Epidemiologists told the inquiry last week it was unclear how the virus had spread from the family to hotel workers and guards, and Mr Menezes said he was unable to shed any light on how it occurred.
He said there was no security footage from the floors where COVID-positive guests were staying, and DHHS had not taken up his offer to view vision from the lobby he had in his possession.
Mr Menezes said from April 27, his hotel became a designated “COVID hotel”, resulting in 274 of the 350 guests allocated to the Rydges being COVID-positive.
Mr Menezes said he did not know why his hotel was selected to be a COVID hotel.
“I feel if we had more time to prepare, to understand the situation, potentially better practices would have come out of it. Now that we have the experience we have learnt a lot over time.”
The Rydges remains part of the hotel quarantine program, but does not house returned travellers.
70 security staff gathered in room
The general manager of the Stamford Plaza hotel, where two smaller outbreaks occurred, said he believed the hotel’s health and safety measures were “adequate and effective”.
Karl Unterfrauner did, however, tell the inquiry of several incidents where safety protocols were not followed by contractors at the hotel.
“Issues were raised involving security guards not maintaining social distance, 70 security guards being present in one conference room and security guards not observing the PPE requirements,” he wrote in his witness statement.
Experts said two smaller outbreaks at the Stamford Plaza led to about 10 per cent of Victoria’s second wave cases.(ABC News: Simon Tucci)
He also outlined occasions where up to five guards would go out for smoke breaks without social distancing, and guards who allowed quarantined guests to leave their rooms to “discuss menu items” with Stamford staff.
Mr Unterfrauner said none of his hotel employees tested positive to COVID-19.
Breach occurred while guard was on phone
The inquiry also heard a security guard was blamed for a major biosecurity breach in Victoria’s hotel quarantine program because he was distracted by his phone.
Four Points by Sheraton manager Stephen Ferrigno told an inquiry he noticed a man walking the hotel lobby around 9:20am on June 25.
“He reached about five or six metres away from us and I noticed he had no shoes on. He was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and he had a mask covering his mouth, but not his nose,” Mr Ferrigno said.
“I was pretty sure this person had not come from outside, and had in fact come from upstairs.”
Stephen Ferrigno said he noticed a quarantined guest wandering around the hotel.(Supplied: COVID-19 Hotel Inquiry)
After demanding a fresh air break, the man who was meant to be in quarantine eventually agreed to return to his room.
The hotel team viewed security footage and discovered the guest had walked into the elevator, evading the attention of the security guard who was busy on his phone.
The guard “looked up” as the man got into the elevator, Mr Ferrigno said.
He told the inquiry that contracted guards were “generally not diligent and in a passive mode”.
Damning evidence about some guards’ behaviour was given at the inquiry yesterday, with more complaints about their performance aired today.
The inquiry is also probing how the hotel quarantine program was set up and run, and why private security guards were hired to oversee guests.
Towels used for guard nap time
Crown Hotels executive general manager Shaun D’Cruz said there was an incident on April 20, when it was believed guards had stolen towels.
“My understanding is towels were being taken from the back of house area and then being used for the purposes of taking naps in the corridor. Is that what you understand the issue to be?” counsel assisting the inquiry Rachel Ellyard asked.
“Yes, it would appear so,” Mr D’Cruz answered.
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Mr D’Cruz said he lodged a complaint to Victorian Government staff and “they managed it appropriately”.
“It did not reoccur,” he said.
The general manager of Travelodge Docklands, another hotel used in the quarantine program, said 322 guests stayed at his venue during April.
Ram Bharadwaj said guests in the program “could be hostile and difficult to deal with”.
“Guests complained almost constantly to nurses and hotel staff about a range of issues ranging from the fact they they were in hotel quarantine, the limited extent to which they were permitted to be outside the room, the food selection and portion sizes and the quality of the food,” he wrote in his statement to the inquiry.
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