News, Culture & Society

Coronavirus Melbourne: Hotel quarantine scheme revealed

A teenage security guard has lifted the lid on Melbourne’s botched hotel quarantine program and sensationally claimed she was recruited via WhatsApp and told to work without any training.  

Shayla Shakshi, 19, only worked one shift subcontracted to an inner-city hotel because she was concerned safety precautions were not being followed and her co-workers treated coronavirus as a ‘joke’. 

‘I just knew something would happen because it’s just like guards were hitting each other. They were hugging each other. They were touching each other,’ she told ABC’s 7.30.

‘They weren’t actually serious about how serious this COVID is. 

Shayla Shakshi worked as a security guard at a Melbourne coronavirus quarantine hotel 

‘They were taking it as a joke. Like, ”It’s just some virus that anyone can get. We’re not going to get it”.’

Victoria recorded 374 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday as it grapples with a second wave of coronavirus infections. 

The outbreak came after new COVID-19 cases in late May and early June were linked to infection control breaches by security guards at quarantine hotels.

An inquiry is investigating a string of shocking claims, including that security guards  had sex with returned travellers who they were supposed to be ensuring were isolating.    

Ms Shakshi, who is from Melbourne’s north, said she was offered the job via messaging platform Whatsapp in May and claimed she was not given proper training.

‘I was hired on a Whatsapp group and I just got told that you need to be here at this certain time and you’re going to dress in a certain way and this is your pay rate and that’s it,’ she said. 

‘We never got any training. We had to put a mask on and gloves on and that was it. It was like, ”OK, how do I wear a mask? How do I sanitise?”’ 

The teenager claimed she was taken into a meeting at the end of her shift, where she was asked to bring her own personal protective equipment for the next day. 

Ms Shakshi said she was told: ”OK, guys, you have got to come in a team and bring your own masks from tomorrow. Bring your own gloves, your own sanitisers because me might run out because we have so many guards on site.’ 

Ms Shakshi, who is from Melbourne's north, was offered the gig via messaging platform Whatsapp in May and claimed she was not given proper training

Ms Shakshi, who is from Melbourne’s north, was offered the gig via messaging platform Whatsapp in May and claimed she was not given proper training

But Ms Shakshi said it was her ‘first and last shift’ at the site as she ‘didn’t want to go back there’ amid the alleged safety breaches.  

She is not the first security guard to make explosive claims about the city’s botched hotel quarantine program. 

One security guard, named only as Sam, said his colleagues would share lifts with groups of travellers, escort them for exercise and then go into the community as normal despite the risk of spreading the virus.

‘On their break, guards were going for a break, and they were going to 7-Eleven, McDonalds, KFC, everywhere, and they were exposing everyone to that,’ he told 9News.

‘We were trying to control the virus, but the way they have done everything, I think we were spreading the virus, not controlling the virus.’

The security guard also claims he was told not to take a test for COVID-19 in case he wouldn’t be able to work.

Pictured: A graph shows Victoria's daily coronavirus cases as the state battles a second wave

Pictured: A graph shows Victoria’s daily coronavirus cases as the state battles a second wave

Pictured: Returned travellers are seen carrying their luggage ahead of two weeks hotel quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic

Pictured: Returned travellers are seen carrying their luggage ahead of two weeks hotel quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic

‘When I knew that there was positive cases in the hotel I have asked them, do I need to go for a test or something? And they said no, no, no don’t worry, don’t stress because we need people, so if you (go) for a test they will ask you to self-isolate, so don’t go, we will let you know when to go for a test,’ he said.  

The hotel quarantine program is now subject to an inquiry, which was launched by the state government and is headed by retired judge Jennifer Coate. 

‘Information already available to the inquiry suggests the possibility of a link between many of the cases of coronavirus identified in the Victorian community in the past few weeks and persons who were quarantined under the hotel quarantine program,’ senior assisting counsel Tony Neal QC said.

‘Comments made by the chief health officer to the media have suggested that it may even be that every case of COVID-19 in Victoria in recent weeks could be sourced to the hotel quarantine program.’

The decisions and communications between the government, hotel operators and private contractors will be examined and submissions have been ordered from them by the end of July.

All returned travellers to Australia are required to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine to stop coronavirus from spreading through the country. Pictured: People depart a bus

All returned travellers to Australia are required to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine to stop coronavirus from spreading through the country. Pictured: People depart a bus

Pictured: Returned travellers in face masks arrive at an airport during the coronvirus pandemic

Pictured: Returned travellers in face masks arrive at an airport during the coronvirus pandemic

That includes the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Department of Treasury and Finance, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Victoria Police, Emergency Management Victoria and Ambulance Victoria.

Two hotels with known large coronavirus outbreaks, Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza have been put on notice, along with Travelodge Melbourne, Park Royal Hotel Melbourne Airport, Holiday Inn Melbourne and Four Points Sheraton.

Quarantine security guards were provided by the government and were not employed by the respective hotels. 

The hotels were not responsible for selecting the guards or ensuring they obtained proper training.  

The eight security companies of interest to the inquiry are Wilson Security, United Risk Management, Unified Security Group, Ultimate Protection Services, MSS security, Elite Protection Services, Australian Protection Group and Security Hub.

Medical experts, hotel staff and returned travellers who stayed in quarantine will be called to give evidence.

Employers face significant penalties if they attempt to deter employees from giving evidence to the inquiry.

‘I expect no less than full, frank and timely cooperation from all government entities and persons to enable me to do my job for the people of Victoria,’ Justice Coate said.

Pictured: Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel watch over returning overseas travellers in March

Pictured: Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel watch over returning overseas travellers in March

It is not known if Premier Daniel Andrews, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos or Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton will be called to give evidence, but Mr Andrews said neither he nor any government minister had been approached.

‘I won’t tell a former judge how to do her work. She will call whomever she thinks she needs to call. Anyone who is called should turn up,’ Mr Andrews told reporters on Monday.

‘What has gone on here is completely unacceptable to me – and unacceptable to all of us.’

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said Mr Andrews and responsible ministers should front the inquiry.

‘When the government has made mistakes and people have died as a result, Victorians need answers. First of all to work out what went wrong and secondly to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again,’ he said.

Corrections Victoria now manages the hotel quarantine program.

International flights have been diverted from the state until the situation is under control.

Public hearings will be held from August 6 and a final report is due on September 25.

All returned travellers to Australia are required to spend 14 days in hotel quarantine to stop coronavirus from spreading through the country. 

Pictured: A Victorian Police officer wears a face mask outside a quarantine hotel in Melbourne

Pictured: A Victorian Police officer wears a face mask outside a quarantine hotel in Melbourne

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk