AMA Victorian President Julian Rait said he was disappointed the department did not respond to the concerns raised about the hotel quarantine program.(Four Corners: Daniel Fermer)
Frontline doctors warned about infection dangers inside Victoria's hotel quarantine program more than a month before workers started catching COVID-19, but the state's health department never responded to their concerns.
A Four Corners investigation can reveal the Australian Medical Association wrote to Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on April 15, recommending a range of infection control measures to stop returned international travellers transmitting the deadly virus to workers and members of the public.
The emails, seen by Four Corners, were written after frontline health workers involved in the care of COVID-19 patients in hotel quarantine began raising concerns.
"We had a whole host of concerns around how the hotel quarantine system was being managed, in terms of resourcing and also in terms of the protocols being used," AMA Victorian president Julian Rait said.
"The department wasn't really perhaps as conscious of the need to have the proper infection control protocols around the security personnel.
"We really needed to have someone checking the compliance of their behaviours to make sure that they followed the right processes."
Security guards outside a  hotel hosting returned travellers in quarantine.
Security guards outside a Melbourne hotel hosting returned travellers in quarantine.(Four Corners)
Associate professor Rait said they were concerned about travel arrangements for COVID-19-positive patients from the quarantine hotels who were getting medical checks at hospital emergency departments.
"Often they could be transferred in the appropriate ambulance but would need to find their own way back to the hotels themselves. And that would involve either a taxi, an Uber, or even, prevailing upon family members," he said.
He said this created the potential for cross-infection to the drivers and other people in the community.
The AMA also suggested that staff in all hotels use hospital-grade personal protective equipment, wear scrubs while on duty and split returned travellers into separate quarantine zones depending on whether they had tested positive for COVID-19.
Associate Professor Rait was dismayed when the department did not respond to the recommendations.
"We were obviously disappointed that those suggestions, given in good faith, were not subsequently followed," he said.

Video of guards sleeping on shift

In late May, a hotel quarantine breach at the Rydges on Swanston marked the start of a deadly wave of infection that forced Victoria into an economically crippling second lockdown.
Four Corners has established the first case at Rydges was a hotel staff member that worked an overnight shift in the lobby doing tasks including cleaning.
The sign outside the Rydges on Swanston Hotel.
Rydges on Swanston was one of two hotels used to house returned travellers for quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic in Victoria.(AAP: Scott Barbour)
The following day, a guard working at Rydges under the security company, Unified, also tested positive. Four more Unified guards working at the hotel subsequently tested positive and a month later, 14 guards working under MSS security at the Stamford Plaza also became infected.
A spokesman for Unified Security told Four Corners it's unclear how the guards caught the virus but they had shared a supposedly COVID-free area with other service providers and hotel personnel.
Unified said it also provided security guards to quarantine hotels in New South Wales where there were no quarantine breaches.
A spokesman said the key difference between NSW and Victoria was the "control and command structure."
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has conceded it is not clear which department was in charge of the hotel quarantine operation. However, DHHS placed an "authorised officer" in each hotel to oversee infection control.
Images shows security guards sleeping on the job at hotel where Unified Security operated.
Images show security guards sleeping on the job at hotel where Unified Security operated.(Four Corners)
Four Corners has obtained photographs and a video of security guards sleeping on the job at another quarantine hotel in Melbourne where Unified Security operated.
The company said the guards were terminated after the photos were reported to management.
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
A security guard was filmed sleeping in a corridor at a Melbourne hotel during a quarantine shift.(Four Corners)

Security guard says he was given one mask for 12-hour shift

A security guard, "Peter", has told Four Corners he quit after one shift at the Novotel on Collins hotel in April because he was worried about catching COVID-19.
Peter did not want to be identified because he still works in the security industry.
He said he received no infection control training before being posted in a corridor on an upper level of the hotel and was told to stop returned travellers from leaving their rooms.
"All I know about COVID is from television, not from the security company. No training whatsoever," he said.
Novotel Hotel in Melbourne
"Peter" worked one shift at the Novotel Hotel in Melbourne.(Four Corners)
Peter started to feel unsafe when guests without face masks were escorted past him in the hotel's corridors.
"They don't have any protective gear; they don't have a mask. And they're not far from more than one foot from us," he said.
"I have a family waiting for me at home … I don't want to pass this disease on to them."
Peter said he was given a single pair of gloves and face mask to use for the entire 12-hour shift, which he removed for a coffee break at a nearby 7-Eleven but put back on when he returned to the hotel.
According to DHHS advice, disposable masks should be discarded after one use.
Peter was recruited by a subcontractor for Unified Security.

Sign up to the Four Corners newsletter

Get the best investigative journalism, delivered to your inbox.
Your information is handled in accordance with the ABC Privacy Collection Statement.
Unified Security said its guards were provided with "ample" supplies of PPE — including three face masks per shift, unlimited gloves, and one pair of reusable eyewear.
The company said its guards were all required to do an online training course on infection control which was followed up with face-to-face training.
But multiple guards working under Unified have told Four Corners they did not receive any training.

Hotel guest worried about guards' potential exposure to virus

Queensland nurse and clinical research co-ordinator Christine Cocks was quarantined with her husband at Rydges in April after the couple contracted COVID-19 on the Greg Mortimer cruise ship that had returned from the Antarctic.
"When we heard that one of the security guards had tested positive, the reaction from both of us was, 'well, I'm not surprised'," she said.
Queensland-based nurse and medical researcher Christine Cocks was detained at the Rydges Hotel in April.
Christine Cocks was not surprised when guards became infected with COVID-19.(Four Corners: Anthony Sines)
Ms Cocks said she witnessed a range of concerning behaviour among security guards at the hotel.
"From our window, we could watch them arrive at 6:00am in the morning — two cars, eight guards would all get out to start their shift," she said.
"That would've been the first thing that you would've stopped, that they would be travelling in a car together to come to work."
Ms Cocks was worried about the guards' potential exposure to the virus.
"The guards that didn't have their gowns on would be wearing gloves and masks, but that doesn't necessarily protect you," she said.
"It takes a mindset and an education to understand the nuances of non-transfer of pathogens."
The United Workers Union, national secretary Tim Kennedy
The United Workers Union national secretary Tim Kennedy said individual guards shouldn't be blamed for infection breaches.(Four Corners: Daniel Fermer)
The United Workers Union, which represents security guards, has cautioned against blaming individual guards for infection breaches.
UWU National Secretary Tim Kennedy said governments have become too reliant on private security guards as part of a broader trend of outsourcing essential services.
"It's been based on the fact that the private sector is more effective and proficient, and what this crisis has shown us is that they're neither," he said.
"They're very good at extracting profit and moving risk onto individual workers. What the pandemic has shown us is they've moved risk not only onto individual workers, they've moved the risk onto all of us. And now we're all paying the price of this COVID pandemic."
An inquiry is now investigating the problems that plagued Victoria's hotel quarantine program, and whether the current outbreak can be entirely traced back to its failings.
It starts its first substantial hearings today.
Previous Next