The head of Victoria’s hotel quarantine system has rejected a claim from a man at the centre of the Holiday Inn outbreak that he declared and was given permission to use a nebuliser at two separate hotel quarantine facilities.
The comments came as Victoria recorded one new locally acquired coronavirus case on Saturday.
The man, who is in intensive care, told the Age that he declared the medical device at both the Holiday Inn at the airport, where the outbreak occurred, and at the Holiday Inn in Flinders Lane, where he was moved after testing positive to Covid-19.
Four hours after arriving at the second hotel, he said, he was contacted by staff who said, after consultation with infectious disease experts at Alfred hospital, that the use of the nebuliser was not permitted in the hotel. They instead provided him with a spacer, which he said “helped a lot”.
On Wednesday, Victorian authorities said it was believed a small number of hotel quarantine workers and former guests who were staying on the same floor breathed in aerosolised particles of the virus created by the use of the nebuliser on 3 and 4 February. There is no suggestion the man knew he was not allowed to use the machine, which is required to deliver medication.
Emma Cassar, the commissioner of Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV), told reporters on Saturday that her agency had conducted an audit of hotel quarantine admission forms and found no record of the nebuliser being declared. She said they were not aware of it until after the inquiry was made to Alfred hospital.
“I can categorically say that there is no evidence from our officers that he has raised this with our health team,” she said.
Cassar said that hotel quarantine staff would not specifically ask if a person had a nebuliser and did not have authority to check people’s bags.
“They don’t ask ‘do you have a nebuliser’, they ask around medical devices or any other aids and there was no disclosure,” she said.
The man told the Age he felt he had been made to feel like a “criminal” from “the way it has all come out in the news and through the government”.
Cassar said she was “deeply sorry” for the way the man had been treated.
“No one ever wanted this to happen and I am sorry that this has been played out the way it has,” she said. “It is awful. We have never accused him of doing the wrong thing, he hasn’t done the wrong thing.”
She then said she would “encourage media outlets to be respectful, to be kind”.
Earlier, when the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, was asked whether it might be correct that the man had declared the nebuliser, or not been told he could not use it, he said he had “no advice that sees me doubt what I have been told by [Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria]” and that he would not “reflect on the person” who was in ICU.
The single additional locally acquired Victorian coronavirus case announced on Saturday was a man in his 30s from Point Cook in Melbourne’s west, who was a friend of a Holiday Inn worker.
That man’s primary close contacts – 38 of them – are isolating and being tested.
There are 14 cases of the infectious UK variant of coronavirus linked to the Holiday Inn as Victoria undergoes a five-day “circuit-breaker” lockdown.
As of Saturday there were 996 known primary close contacts associated with the known cases with test results expected to come through by Monday.
Of 12 co-workers of an infected worker at Brunetti’s cafe at Melbourne airport, 11 have returned negative test results, which Andrews said was encouraging. The one remaining test result is yet to come through.
He defended the need for the third lockdown, saying he knew a lot of people would be hurting but that it was the right thing to do.
“No one wants to make these sorts of decisions but when you have advice then you have no choice,” he said.
Five international flights that were in transit when the Victorian government announced a suspension of all passenger arrivals will arrive in Melbourne on Saturday, amounting to about 100 passengers.
Until 11.59pm on Wednesday, Victorians are only able to leave home to shop for food and essential items, provide or receive care, exercise and to work or study if they can’t from home.
The rules are largely in line with stage-four restrictions imposed last year, with a five-kilometre travel limit, compulsory face mask use and no visitors.
The premier said he was confident the lockdown – similar to that imposed in Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth after cases escaped quarantine – would work.
Authorities are tracking down 5,000 people who passed through Melbourne airport’s terminal 4 after a case worked at Brunetti cafe while infectious on 9 February between 4.45am and 1.15pm.
About 29 flights arrived and departed through the terminal during that window.
Anyone who visited the terminal then needs to get a test and isolate for 14 days, including those who have since travelled interstate.
The latest exposure sites listed on the Victorian health department website include Alberton Cafe, Albert Park, the Coffeeologist cafe, Point Cook, Coates Hire Werribee, Caltex Woolworths in Hoppers Crossing as well as the Craigieburn train line, the 513 Eltham to Glenroy bus route and the 901 Frankston to Melbourne airport bus route.
Also on Saturday, Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said “vulnerable” Australians should not be left to languish overseas as the Victorian premier again called for a discussion on the future of hotel quarantine.
“[As to] whether we should be taking fewer people home, I would say we do have vulnerable Australians overseas, the Australian government does has a responsibility to Australians overseas and for those who are vulnerable and really desperate to come home, we need to factor that in.”
NSW and Queensland on Saturday both reported no new local cases in their 24-hour reporting windows. Western Australia and South Australia also recorded no new local virus cases.
Victorian visitors to NSW from Saturday will be obliged to follow their home state’s “stay at home” orders. This does not apply to residents of NSW border communities unless they have visited greater Melbourne.
NSW has strongly advised its residents to avoid non-essential travel to Victoria.
Tasmania, Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia have closed their borders to Victorian travellers.
The Victorian opposition leader, Michael O’Brien, said Victorians had every right to be furious they were in lockdown for a third time.
Andrews said there would be announcements in coming days about financial support for businesses and others.