Melbourne hotel’s COVID-19 outbreak could have been prevented, workers say

A coronavirus cluster that emerged at Melbourne’s Rydges on Swanston was sparked by poor hygiene procedures and training, according to workers at the hotel.

The Age reported that the cluster of 16 cases was connected to contractors hired as part of the Victorian government’s quarantine operation at the hotel, which was being used for mandatory isolation for Australians returning from overseas.

Seven contractors, including security guards, who were employed at the Rydges on Swanston hotel and one Rydges employee have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, along with eight close contacts of those infected, since 26 May.

A senior security officer who worked at Rydges told The Age that Department of Health and Human Services staff told guards to ration face masks and gloves due to shortages.

The cluster, as of Friday, included a man who later travelled to Queensland, the outlet reported.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton said the department had issued a full review of health protocols at all quarantine hotels in response to the outbreak.

Andrew Buntine, a supervising guard contracted to work at Rydges through security firm Elite Protection Services, told The Age health department officers who managed the hotel’s quarantine operation did not appear to have been properly briefed, and hygiene protocols were not clear.

“Every day, things were changing,” Buntine told The Age. “The [department] officers really struggled to know what was going on and they were out of their depth.”

He said that department staff told guards to use each mask for four hours and only use six pairs of gloves per day.

The rationing, they said, was designed to ensure nurses and other essential staff had enough personal protection equipment when supplies were dwindling, according to The Age.

Meanwhile, a worker at another quarantine hotel, who asked not to be named, told The Age she saw security guards wearing the same pair of gloves while touching detainees’ belongings, trolleys and lifts and accompanying them throughout the building.

However, the worker, who reportedly rotated between quarantine hotels, said the problems were wider than security guards, claiming surfaces that had come into contact with infected detainees were often not thoroughly cleaned or cleaned at all.

In addition, paperwork was passed between staff who had been in contact with detainees and those who had not.

According to The Age, security guards are not provided with full personal protective equipment, such as gowns, goggles and shoe covers.

Sutton said the hotel’s review would examine policies on staff use of personal protective equipment, contaminated PPE disposal, cleaning, and the enforcement of physical distancing.