Australia

Court told security chief feared for quarantine guards

A security manager raised concerns around the safety of guards coming into contact with travellers during Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, a court has been told.

The Department of Health, which ran the program between March and July 2020, has been charged by WorkSafe with 58 breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

A five-week committal hearing is underway for Magistrate Simon Zebrowski to determine if there’s sufficient evidence for the department to be convicted on the charges.

Security manager Ishu Gupta, who had staff working at the quarantine hotels, told Melbourne Magistrates Court he was worried about his guards’ safety when their roles changed.

Security staff started moving luggage and escorting quarantined travellers on fresh air walks instead of just observing them from afar, the court was told.

Mr Gupta said some of the changes in instructions “didn’t make common sense”.

“There were clear indications… COVID-19 could spread to the guards,” he told the court on Friday.

But the security manager said he was assured the new guidelines were coming from the health department so he didn’t question the instructions further.

The court has been told guards completed an online COVID-19 training module before starting work but it was easy for them to skip through and guess answers.

Focus on six guards

Wilson Security, MSS Security and Unified Security were also instructed to source and provide their own protective equipment to staff, while the department’s PPE guidelines were only sent out eight weeks after the quarantine program started.

The court was told 90 per cent of cases in Victoria’s deadly second wave were traced back to six guards, a healthcare worker and an employee who contracted the virus at the Rydges hotel from May 25, 2020.

Another 10 per cent of cases were traced back to 26 guards and a department employee based at the Stamford from June 16.

The second wave resulted in more than 18,000 new infections, 800 deaths and a lockdown that lasted 112 days.

If found guilty of the WorkSafe charges, the department faces a possible total fine of more than $95 million.

The committal hearing will continue on Monday.

-AAP



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