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Melbourne’s ‘hot’ hotel still guarded by private guards despite outbreaks

Most people who test positive are moved via ambulance to the hotel, known formally by health staff as a “red” hotel, but referred to by security and healthcare workers as the “hot” hotel.

Last week there were more than 50 patients recovering from coronavirus in the hotel, with healthcare workers from Alfred Health tending to their needs.

No medical staff who are part of the quarantine program have been infected with coronavirus since the compulsory hotels scheme for returned travellers started in March.

But workers paid by private security firms have acquired infections from travellers in the hotels and then spread the virus to family members and contacts.

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Mr Andrews on Wednesday described the release of coronavirus into the community via these security guards as “unacceptable breaches”.

Mr Andrews this week suspended international flights into Melbourne for two weeks, to get on top of contract tracing coronavirus infections, which genomic testing has shown often originated from quarantine hotels.

Retired Family Court judge Jennifer Coate will lead an inquiry into the quarantine failures after Mr Andrews said there had been a failure to run them properly in the initial weeks of the program in late March. The Premier said those problems had now been remedied.

“There have been unacceptable infection control breaches in hotel quarantine,” Mr Andrews said. “It’s why there have been changes into the way hotel quarantine operates.”

On Wednesday, guards at the entry to the “hot” hotel were employed by both Spotless and Southern Cross Protection. Employees from both firms declined to comment when approached by The Age.

These firms were not the ones involved in the outbreak at the Stamford Hotel, which by Wednesday had spread to include 31 people, including security guards, their contacts and family members, or the one at Rydges on Swanston, where 19 guards and their contacts were infected.

MSS was guarding the Stamford Plaza. The company did not respond to attempts to contact it on Wednesday. Unified Security is understood to have been guarding the Rydges on Swanston, but on Wednesday their spokesman did not return calls.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said that more than 20,000 travellers coming to Victoria had undergone 14 days of isolation in designated quarantine hotels since the program started.

“The government has ordered an inquiry into the operation of the hotel quarantine program – no international returned travellers will be arriving in Melbourne for two weeks while the program is reset under the supervision of Corrections Victoria,” she said.

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