Daniel Andrews has been slammed from all angles over his handling of the bungled hotel quarantine program that sparked Victoria’s coronavirus disaster – and for which no one has been held accountable.
Business leaders, health experts and the premier’s political opponents are among the latest take aim at his ‘diabolical’ leadership in a time of crisis.
His state’s horror second wave of cases – most, if not all of which can be traced to quarantine hotels – has derailed Australia’s economic recovery and plunged more than six million people back into lockdown.
The renewed criticism of Mr Andrews came after a press conference on Thursday when he promised to ‘own’ the errors of the quarantine fiasco – but couldn’t answer crucial questions about it.
A grilling from journalists took a heavy toll on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday
Mas Azemi of Mas Barber Shop was forced to shut up shop for six weeks on Wednesday afternoon in response to Victoria’s ongoing COVID-19 outbreak
State opposition leader Michael O’Brien said the premier was overseeing the ‘biggest public policy failure in Australian history’.
‘Can you name me any other public policy failure that has led to dozens and dozens of deaths, 250,000 Victorians being thrown out of work, the closure of tens and thousand of businesses, five million Victorians subject to a curfew and every Victorian forced to wear a mask,’ Mr O’Brien told Sky News on Thursday night.
‘He needs to answer questions. We shouldn’t have to spend $3million on an [hotel quarantine] inquiry for the premier to tell Victorians the truth.
‘His own chief adviser says everything that is happening now goes back to hotel quarantine.
‘That’s why he is so keen to avoid scrutiny. He shut down parliament. You can have Dan Murphy’s as an essential service, but you can’t have democracy as an essential service?’
State opposition leader Michael O’Brien (pictured) said Daniel Andrews was at the heart of the ‘biggest public policy failure in Australian history’
Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall was deserted on Thursday after retailers were forced to close
Premier Andrews was quick to sack two ministers and frontbencher Adem Somyrek after the party’s branch stacking revelations came to light in June.
But no public health official has been stood down over the hotel quarantine saga, with Mr Andrews admitting on Thursday he wouldn’t know who to sack.
He said he had no idea which government departments or ministers were responsible for the botched operation.
‘The lines of authority and accountability and exactly what has gone on here, it is not clear,’ he said.
‘I’ll be accountable for mistakes that were made, but I don’t have the answers. That’s why I’ve set up a proper inquiry to get those answers. We’re all entitled to them.’
The construction industry has been hard hit with building sites restricted to 25 per cent capacity. Pictured are workers building a new park in Melbourne’s CBD on Thursday
A Melburnian walks past a closed up shop on Wednesday as the city goes into stage four lockdown
Meanwhile, big business owners have taken aim at Premier Andrews as the economic implications of stage four lockdown start to take effect.
Billionaire owner of Salta Properties Sam Tarascio slammed his leadership as ‘diabolical’.
‘The government is saying this is a health crisis and we can’t consider everything else. But that is like sticking your head in the sand. We can be healthy but we are going to stuff the whole state’s economy in the meantime,’ he told The Australian.
Property developer Tim Gurner warned the decision to force the construction industry down to 25 per cent capacity at job sites could be disastrous.
He is ‘appalled’ the government didn’t consult builders and unions before announcing the measure.
‘It is going to be catastrophic for the Victorian economy. It is policy on the run. This is the most ill-thought-out policy I’ve seen,’ Mr Gurner said.
‘It is like they made it up the night before … and it has been disappointing, given that Victoria is a construction and property industry-driven state … and one that employees 400,000 people.’
Property developers have slammed the Victorian government’s decision to restrict work on construction sites to 25 per cent of normal capacity. Pictured is a Melbourne working on his own on Thursday
VICTORIA’S COVID-19 NUMBERS FOR THURSDAY:
* 471 new cases, the 32nd consecutive day of a triple-digit increase
* Eight new deaths, bringing the state’s toll to 170 and the national figure to 255
* The latest deaths are two men in their 60s, three men and two women in their 80s and one woman in her 90s
* Four of the latest deaths are linked to aged care
* 13,469 total confirmed Victorian cases and 5628 have recovered
* 2388 cases may indicate community transmission
* 7449 active cases
* 1435 active cases linked to aged care, while there are 810 active among healthcare workers
* There have been 1388 total cases among healthcare workers
* 575 people in hospital, with 42 in intensive care
* More than 1,746,900 tests have been done since the start of the pandemic, with about 25,000 tests done on Wednesday
* Stage four restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and stage three protocols for regional Victoria will run for six weeks until September 13
AGED CARE OUTBREAKS:
* 159 cases have been linked to St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner
* 155 cases have been linked to Epping Gardens Aged Care in Epping
* 139 cases have been linked to Estia Aged Care Facility in Ardeer
* 114 cases have been linked to Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth
* 93 cases have been linked to Estia Aged Care Facility in Heidelberg
* 78 cases have been linked to Arcare Aged Care Facility in Craigieburn
* 74 cases have been linked to BaptCare Wyndham Lodge Community in Werribee
* 72 cases have been linked to Glendale Aged Care Facility in Werribee
* 68 cases have been linked to Aurrum Aged Care in Plenty
* 67 cases have been linked to Menarock Life Aged Care Facility in Essendon
CASES LINKED TO KEY OUTBREAKS:
* 196 cases have been linked to Bertocchi Smallgoods in Thomastown
* 164 cases have been linked to Somerville Retail Services in Tottenham
* 122 cases have been linked to JBS Brooklyn
* 89 cases have been linked to Melbourne Health Royal Park Campus
* 83 cases have been linked to Australian Lamb Company in Colac
* 59 cases have been linked to Woolworths Distribution Centre Mulgrave
* 44 cases have been linked to the Linfox warehouse in Truganina
* 43 cases have been linked to Nino Early Learning Centre in Bundoora
* 37 cases have been linked to Catholic Regional College in Sydenham
* 31 cases have been linked to Golden Farms Poultry in Breakwater
* 30 cases have been linked to Respite Services Australia in Moonee Ponds
* 29 cases have been linked to Ingham’s Thomastown
The DHHS is also looking into cases linked to Caroline Chisholm Catholic College in Braybrook
Federal government officials are also angry they were forced to intervene after Victoria’s health authorities were reluctant to share critical coronavirus data with other states.
Senior health officials told the Herald Sun Victorian authorities have been ‘almost obstructive’ in theirs dealing with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.
They claimed the state’s chief health officer Brett Sutton was tight-lipped about the delays in contact tracing and notifying other positive cases they were infected.
Victoria Health insisted it had not withheld any ‘relevant’ information.
‘Victoria works cooperatively with all jurisdictions,’ a DHHS spokeswoman said. ‘All relevant data is shared in the fight to slow coronavirus.’
Meanwhile, the healthcare sector has called for immediate government intervention to address the rampant spread of coronavirus in hospitals and medical centres.
As of Thursday, 1388 healthcare workers in Victoria had contracted the virus.
Of the 810 active cases, 48 were doctors, 346 nurses and 416 were other healthcare workers.
Two-thirds are aged in their 20s and 30s.
‘The current infection rate is unacceptable,’ Australian Institute of Health and Safety chairwoman Naomi Kemp said on Thursday.
‘But more tragically, it is preventable.’
Another 1435 of Victoria’s 7449 total active cases are linked to aged care.
The ‘failure’ to instil adequate health and safety standards contributed to the state’s second wave infiltrating hospitals and aged care centres, Ms Kemp said.
The national safety body claims many building site workers have better personal protective equipment to combat the virus than doctors and nurses.
National PPE guidance for use in hospitals does not require staff to wear P2 or N95 masks while treating confirmed or potential COVID-19 patients.
Surgical masks, more commonly used in hospitals, do not offer the same level of protection against the airborne virus.
The AIHS wants federal and state governments to step in and mandate the use of P2 and N95 respirators in these circumstances among a bevy of best-practice virus upgrades.
‘The Victorian experience will simply be repeated in other states unless we act urgently to introduce better protocols across Australia,’ Ms Kemp said.
‘We’re not saying that individual hospitals and aged care centres aren’t trying.
‘But many are only implementing the minimum health and safety standards, and those requirements are dangerously inadequate for frontline workers.’
The AIHS echoed calls from Victorian anaesthetists last week to provide staff-wide PPE ‘fit testing’.
Fit testing involves checking whether airborne particles can penetrate an N95 mask and other safety gear.
The Australian Society of Anaesthetists said it had made ‘numerous approaches’ to federal and state health authorities to request mandatory fit testing in all hospitals.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Andrews came under fire for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Justice Jennifer Coate, who is leading the inquiry into the hotel quarantine program, said on Thursday the premier and his ministers were free to answer questions about the probe.
But Mr Andrews still remained tight-lipped, telling reporters he doesn’t have all the answers yet.
The premier gave a fiery response at the suggestion he was hiding behind the inquiry when asked about the chain of command in the hotel quarantine program.
‘I’m not going to conduct a judicial inquiry from this podium. I’m not having two inquires at once. We are having a proper inquiry.
‘Judge Coate will take that inquiry where ever she wants to take it and she will report whatever she believes was appropriate.’
Australian Defense Force (ADF) personnel and Protective service officers are seen on patrol
Police check the permit papers of a worker on day 1 of the full stage 4 lockdown restrictions
He said he took responsibility for mistakes that had been made.
‘I am accountable because of the job I have. I’m accountable for any mistakes, and all mistakes, that are made. I have never shirked that responsibility.
‘I’ve never moved so much as an inch away from that responsibility. That is the role that I have. I will own those errors. I will be accountable for those errors. So, please don’t be in any doubt about that.’
The inquiry was due to start this week but it has been pushed back to August 17 when it will be held via an online hearing due to the Melbourne lockdown.
People packed Queen Victoria Market on day one of the full stage 4 lockdown
Police and ADF are seen patrolling Flagstaff Gardens on day one of the full stage four lockdown restrictions in Melbourne’s CBD
Earlier during briefing Mr Andrews revealed the details on the reduction in capacity for the state’s meat processing facilities as distribution centres have been forced to reduce their workforce to two-thirds of normal production during the six-week lockdown.
Red meat expected to go down to 66 per cent of normal operations and poultry to 80 per cent.
Retail stores across the city will largely be closed to customers from Thursday, while construction and manufacturing work will also been scaled back in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.
Employees allowed to work on-site now have to show a permit or official work ID if they are by stopped police to prove they can leave their homes, or face fines of up to $99,123 for businesses and up to $19,826 for individuals.
Melbourne has been in stage-four lockdown since Sunday night. Pictured is a heavy police presence in Melbourne on Wednesday
Permitted workers and those working from home who cannot supervise their kids must fill out separate forms to send them to child care, kindergarten or primary school.
The rules kicked in a day after Victoria recorded its deadliest day of the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday with 15 fatalities, including that of a man in his 30s, and 725 new cases.
Melbourne has been in stage-four lockdown since Sunday with schools shut, weddings banned, and citizens restricted to within a 5km radius of their homes.
Between 8pm and 5am, residents are only allowed to leave their house for work and essential health, care or safety reasons.
There are now 7,227 active cases in Victoria, 2,280 of which have no known source.
What is closed in Melbourne Stage 4
Personal care including hairdressers
Pubs, taverns, bars, brothels and prostitution services, clubs, nightclubs
Food courts, restaurants, cafes, etc
Architectural, engineering and technical services
Travel and tour agencies
Non-emergency call centre operations
Non-urgent elective surgery
Museums, parks and gardens, ski resorts
Places of worship except what is required to stream services or provide soup kitchens and food banks
Manufacturing of non-metallic mineral and fabricated metal products, furniture, wood, textile, leather fur, dressing knitted, clothing and footwear, domestic appliances
All office-based and professional businesses, except those delivering critical services, must work from home
OPERATING BUT LIMITED
Building sites of more than three storeys – 25 per cent of workforce
Less than three storeys- five workers on site at a time only
Meat processing – workers cut by a third
Shopping centres for access to permitted retail only
Public transport, ride share and taxis only to support access to permitted services for permitted workers
Thoroughbred, harness and greyhound racing with minimum number of essential participants to operate safely
What is open in Melbourne Stage 4
Supermarkets, bottle shops, petrol stations, pharmacies, post offices, banks
Retailers working onsite to fulfill online orders
Hardware, building an garden supplies for trade
Specialist stationery for business use
Motor vehicle parts for emergency repairs, mechanics
Locksmiths, laundry and dry cleaners, maternity supplies
Disability and health services and equipment, mobility devices
Farms and commercial fishing
Vets, pounds and animal shelters
Supermarkets will stay open
Construction of critical infrastructure and services to support those projects
Critical repairs to homes where required for emergency or safety
Cafes and restaurants for takeaway
Critical service call centres
Law enforcement and courts for urgent matters
Prisons, facilities for parolees, adult parole board, youth justice facilities
Essential maintenance and manufacturing