Victorian Premier’s lips are sealed on COVID-19 outbreak
COVID-19 is ravaging his state, where 317 new cases were revealed yesterday, but Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews refuses to answer questions about his government's bungling, which has also led to an outbreak in NSW.
He declined to say when he knew his hotel quarantine program - staffed by private security with as little as five minutes' training - was being bungled so badly that the coronavirus was spreading throughout Melbourne.
The Premier, who had the toughest lockdown in the country in March, also declined to say why his government failed to act when senior bureaucrats begged months ago in an email for police to take over the quarantine operation.
Mr Andrews would not say on what date he learned of serious allegations against hotel guards, including that they had slept with returned travellers. He declined to say if he was pressured to persist with the private security arrangement rather than call in police or the army, as other states did.
When asked if contact tracing, since shown to be deficient, was a problem, he declined to say.
As NSW was plunged further into crisis by the coronavirus outbreak in southwest Sydney stemming from Melbourne, Mr Andrews declined to say whether he would offer an apology to residents of his neighbouring state now facing tighter restrictions.
Residents of Sydney hot spots have also been banned from travelling to some states as a result of the outbreak.
Mr Andrews has appointed a former judge to inquire into the failings and has declined to answer specific questions on the basis that an inquiry is under way.
The Daily Telegraph pointed out to Mr Andrews he has no legal obligation to decline to answer questions.
His office sent a general response, saying that he would not "provide a commentary" during the inquiry.
His spokeswoman added 1300 disease detectives were working "around the clock" in a bid to stem the ballooning outbreak which has stricken patients in nursing homes, health staff and school students. NSW Deaths rose by two yesterday.
"We all know this disease is deadly - it can spread in our supermarkets, in our workplaces, or even just one single night at the pub - that's why we have more than 1300 disease detectives working around the clock to find and contain coronavirus," Mr Andrews' spokeswoman said.
When told that The Daily Telegraph would run the questions in full and pointed out they had not been answered, the spokeswoman said the response "covers all of the questions asked".
Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday laid bare the difference between Victoria with its more than 2000 active cases and NSW where suppression efforts had been effective up until the latest community clusters.
"The extent of the outbreak in Victoria is beyond what we would have, hoped would have occurred … it is a big setback in Victoria," the Prime Minister said.
By contrast, Mr Morrison said the way NSW had responded to the Crossroads Hotel outbreak at Casula, which infected 40 and was sparked by a Melbourne freight worker, showed how "effectively the states can respond" to the pandemic.
"You can continue to move forward in the way that NSW is demonstrating by building that capability for tracing, for testing and that's been quite effective in this case, and hopefully we will see that situation continue to improve," the PM said.
Ten new cases were diagnosed in NSW yesterday, including another linked to Victoria - a returned traveller who flew from Victoria into Ballina on July 12.
NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant declared our state was at a "critical point".
Residents have been urged to avoid parties and mass gatherings as health officials wait to see if more cases linked to Victorian travellers emerge.
While NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Dr Chant have been at pains not to lay blame at Victoria or criticise the state's health system, genomic testing has linked the outbreaks.
Further to that, Victoria's own chief medical officer said on Monday it was "conceivable absolutely" that every case in the state could be linked to the hotel quarantine bungle.
The death toll in Victoria reached 29 yesterday after two men in their 80s became the latest victims to succumb to the virus, while the source of 289 of the 317 new cases were under investigation.
There were last night 160 outbreaks being monitored in the state, including 28 aged care homes, which have clusters as large as 31 cases.
Data on the state's active cases show how quickly the second wave swelled with just 40 active infections on June 14 and 2128 yesterday.
The situation is now so serious it has forced some elective surgeries to be put on hold, while others will be halved in preparation of a in influx of COVID-19 patients in hospital. Hundreds of health workers who have been exposed to the virus, or who are sick, are in isolation. Almost 400 health staff have come down with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic with cases accelerating in recent weeks in key hospitals.
About 140 police and 30 Protective Services Officers were yesterday self-isolating following concerns they had contact with people with COVID-19, including two officers at Frankston.
Despite the rising infections, Mr Andrews said there were no plans to move to stage four restrictions.
Originally published as Victorian Premier's lips are sealed on COVID-19 outbreak