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Melbourne hotel quarantine guards wore face masks with their NOSES hanging out 

A Victorian government staff member told a potentially suicidal guest to ‘stop being so dramatic’ after they threatened to take their own life while demanding a cigarette break in hotel quarantine, an inquiry heard today.

A nurse working in Melbourne’s bungled quarantine program, known only as nurse Jen, told the inquiry that she saw medical notes that said the patient was considering suicide.

She raised this with a department of health staff member who called the patient and ‘told them they needed to stop threatening suicide just so they could get a cigarette,’ nurse Jen said. 

Jen said the message to the patient was ‘stop being so dramatic.’ 

She tried to call the patient twice before putting on full PPE and knocking on the door.

The guest was unharmed but ‘stressed and anxious’. 

Earlier in the inquiry, nurse Jen said she saw security guards failing to wear PPE properly.

The agency nurse worked several shifts the Parkroyal hotel at Melbourne Airport, three shifts at the Holiday Inn and a swabbing shift at the Grand Chancellor in the CBD between 27 April and 3 June.

She told the inquiry that she often saw guards not wearing masks properly or keeping their gloves on for too long.  

‘It was very obvious to me that training in PPE hadn’t been widely available to everyone involved in the program,’ she said. 

‘I saw a lot of mostly security guards for example constantly wearing the same gloves throughout their shifts.’

Nurse Jen said guards would wear gloves while ‘making themselves a coffee, using their phone and things like that.

‘[They were] always wearing the same gloves, wearing their masks and their nose was hanging out or that it was underneath their chin,’ she said.

Her role was to call each guest every day and check if they had coronavirus symptoms or any other welfare needs. 

Nurse Jen said there were enough staff and enough PPE in each hotel she worked. 

‘When guests were arriving to the hotel, we would have to go down to meet them and everyone would be wearing masks, most people would be wearing gloves as well because they would be touching paper,’ she said. 

The inquiry also heard from returned travellers.

One anonymous man said his family, who had strict religious requirements, were repeatedly given incorrect food.

‘The adult food was listed as the children’s names, my son and my daughter, and the children’s food was just labelled child,’ he said.

‘At least twice they called and said “can I speak to my two-year-old daughter’s name”,’ he said. 

‘I said “I’m happy to give the phone, but she’s two years old”.’

The man said he wanted to move to a room with a bath so his pregnant wife could relieve her back pain, but she was told ‘you’re not the first pregnant woman to come here.’  

Nearly all Victoria’s second-wave coronavirus cases can be traced back to a single quarantine hotel, the inquiry heard on Tuesday.

The virus escaped Melbourne’s Rydges on Swanston hotel after a family of four was moved there following positive tests, according to government epidemiologist Charles Alpren.

The family returned from overseas on May 9, started quarantine in another hotel and was moved to the Rydges on May 15.

All four tested positive to COVID-19 by May 18.

The following week, on May 25, three hotel staff members were diagnosed with the deadly virus.

By mid-June, a total of 17 staff and their close contacts had tested positive.

The virus then made its way out into the community and the outbreak is linked to another 24 clusters.

‘It is likely that the large majority – I said in my statement approximately 90 per cent or more – of COVID-19 infections in Victoria can be traced to the Rydges Hotel,’ Dr Alpren said. 

Almost all the other cases can likely be traced back to the Stamford Plaza Hotel which was also used for quarantine, according to Dr Alpren.

‘It is likely that a high proportion, approximately 99 per cent of current cases of COVID-19 in Victoria have arisen from Rydges or Stamford,’ he said.  

Dr Alpren said Victoria’s health department had seen ‘no evidence of any other transmission’ outside the hotels.

‘That’s not to say that there are no other transmission events that could be there. 

‘But because there are very few people now coming into Victoria who potentially offer new sources of importation of the virus, it is less and less likely,’ he said.

In late May, when the virus first broke out of hotel quarantine, 19 people in Victoria had died from COVID-19. The toll now stands at 376.

The inquiry continues.  

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