Horror hotel cleaning bungle revealed
A senior public servant lost confidence that the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services knew what they "really need or want" in the early days of the hotel quarantine program, according to an email revealed at the inquiry into the troubled scheme.
Unni Menon, the executive director of aviation strategy and services at the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR), was in charge of procuring the hotels where returned travellers would be quarantined.
On Monday Arthur Moses SC, representing Unified Security, read aloud an email Mr Menon sent to DJPR secretary Simon Phemister in early April.
"Importantly, I don't have confidence that the DHHS know what they really need or want," the email read.
"The demands so far in conversations and needs discussions yesterday gave cause for concern."
Mr Menon told the inquiry: "To the extent of an understanding of what specific requirements were needed, there were ideas, there were thoughts, but I guess we were hopeful for more clarity."
He said he didn't recall Mr Phemister responding to the email.
Mr Menon added that the email was not a "catch-all" statement but referred to issues around predicting who would enter quarantine and what their needs would be.
The varied requirements - including considerations such as the number of people, families, medical needs, dietary requirements, and more - made finding and setting up appropriate hotels a difficult task, Mr Menon said.
"One of the challenges that we constantly faced in this task was to get an accurate handle on demand profiling," Mr Menon said.
"That was a big issue because a lot of things hung off that, in terms of how we managed inventory, how we actually managed supply to best match demand."
The inquiry has previously heard that DJPR officials initially thought they had carriage of the program, but it was rapidly taken over by the Department of Health and Human Services, leading to some confusion about who was in charge of various aspects.
USE HOT WATER, HOTELS TOLD
Quarantine hotels seeking COVID-19 cleaning advice were told to use the hottest water available to wash linen but not given other specific instructions for weeks, an inquiry has head.
Mr Menon told the inquiry that detailed and tailored cleaning advice was not circulated to hotels until June 17, well into the program that began in late March.
Mr Moses questioned Mr Menon whether anything had been done in response to hotels seeking "something more tailored" cleaning practices as they were essentially running health services.
Mr Menon replied that to the best of his knowledge, there was some advice in late April about using the hottest possible water to wash clothes and linen.
It wasn't a document but rather advice his team received and forwarded to hotels, he added.
Under cross-examination from Claire Harris, appearing for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Mr Menon agreed there was a 24/7 hotline on a cleaning leaflet that had been handed out to hotels participating in the quarantine program in March.
In his statement, Mr Menon wrote: "We only received clarity and detail with regards to required cleaning and disinfection procedures from DHHS in mid-June."
He said that by "we" he meant just his team, which did not include another DJPR official, Claire Febey, who Ms Harris said had received detailed cleaning protocols in April.
CRISP LIKELY TO GIVE EVIDENCE
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp has refused to answer questions about his role in Victoria's hotel quarantine system but says he expects to be called to give evidence over the scheme.
Mr Crisp, who has rarely fronted the media during the pandemic, scheduled a press conference on Monday to discuss the state's bushfire preparations.
But he would not be drawn when questions were also directed towards his role on deciding to use private security for quarantine over Victoria Police and the Australian Defence Force.
"What we're talking about here today is the weather," he said.
"That's where my focus is today and as we move forward over the next few months."
Mr Crisp said he expected to be called to give evidence at the inquiry currently running into the bungled program.
"I am more than happy to fully co-operate with the hotel inquiry," he said.
"I'm here talking about keeping the community safe."
- Kieran Rooney
HOTEL CLEANING BUNGLE REVEALED
Quarantine hotels did not receive detailed information about cleaning and disinfection until they had been hosting return travellers for 2½ months, an inquiry has heard.
Officials from the DJPR were under the microscope before inquiry chief Jennifer Coate on Monday as the inquiry into Melbourne's quarantine hotels resumed.
Mr Menon said hotels were expected to clean to the most recent recommended COVID-19 standard, and the onus was on them to comply.
But, he said, specialised cleaning information was not provided to hotels until June 17, in the form of a document from the DHHS.
"This had significant detail and level of prescription in terms of cleaning and disinfection," Mr Menon said.
Prior to that, hotels had access to a 3 or 4 page leaflet provided by the Hotels Association and created by the federal health department describing how to clean a room, how to use personal protective equipment, and other COVID-19 information, Mr Menon said.
Rooms occupied by travellers who had tested positive to COVID-19 were cleaned by DHHS contractors, but the hotels were responsible for other general cleaning, the inquiry heard.
Last week, DJPR staff gave evidence about the rushed start to the hotel quarantine program, which was established in just 48 hours in response to the coronavirus crisis.
Originally published as Horror hotel cleaning bungle revealed