Victorian quarantine manager stood down over allegations of Covid infection control breach

Melissa Davey
·4 min read

The general manager responsible for infection prevention and control within Victoria’s hotel quarantine system has been stood down while a review occurs into allegations they breached infection control protocols, including by refusing Covid-19 testing.

The government services minister, Danny Pearson, said on Wednesday that he was concerned by reports in the Australian newspaper that the general manager, Matiu Bush, had refused a required daily Covid-19 test after being onsite at a quarantine hotel, allegedly stating; “I’m the head of IPC [Infection Prevention and Control] and I override that protocol.”

“Last night I become aware of reports in relation to Mr Bush and I formed the opinion overnight that Mr Bush needs to be stood down pending a review,” Pearson said.

Related: Victorian Covid quarantine chief rejects claim nebuliser at centre of outbreak declared to staff

“That’s not what I expect from a senior leader, a senior manager … because we want to make sure that we set the right standards right from the top.”

The Australian said it obtained confidential reports that revealed the breach, along with a separate incident where Bush allegedly entered the Mercure Hotel on 1 March without using a sanitising station, checking in or changing his mask after going out for coffee.

Meanwhile, the Australian revealed a separate report suggesting the Holiday Inn hotel quarantine breach that led to Victoria’s third lockdown in February was not caused by a Covid-positive man who used a nebuliser in his room as authorities initially suggested, but was more likely caused by the lengthy swabbing of an unmasked Covid-positive woman in an open doorway.

While the Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria Infection Prevention and Control report said the nebuliser did aid in the transmission, it was not the cause of the initial leak. Rather, the woman being swabbed in the corridor led to the virus being transmitted down the corridor by air-conditioning before pooling outside the door of the room where the man with the nebuliser was staying, the Australian reported.

At the time, the man said he had been given permission by health authorities to use the nebuliser, but that he had been made to feel like a “criminal” from “the way it has all come out in the news and through the government”.

The opposition health spokeswoman, Georgie Crozier, said on Wednesday that the state government “have covered up the truth and blamed this poor man”. The man gave a short statement to Melbourne radio station 3AW on Wednesday, saying: “I am very glad this has come out, though it continues to show there’s systemic problems that need to be resolved”.

However, Emma Cassar, the commissioner of Covid-19 Quarantine Victoria, told reporters on Wednesday: “The working hypothesis is still, as I understand, that this was caused by the nebuliser.”

The opposition has called on the government to publicly release the leaked reports. But the acting premier, James Merlino, said during question time that the nebuliser was a “significant contributor to the outbreak”.

“If we took advice from the Liberal party, we’d still be in lockdown,” Merlino said.

A review of the management of variants of concern in hotel quarantine settings led by Victoria’s deputy chief health officer, epidemiologist and infectious diseases physician Prof Allen Cheng also said: “At the Holiday Inn Hotel, a total of 24 cases (including three index cases who were residents) resulted in transmission from residents to staff and other residents in the hotel setting”.

“It was hypothesised that one staff member acquired infection in the foyer of the hotel during the process of transfer of known cases to the health hotel. An incident with a nebuliser was investigated as a likely source of infection for six other cases associated with this outbreak in the hotel setting,” the report says.

Cassar said the breaches of protocol by Bush were minor, and that while they did initially refuse to get tested at one quarantine hotel as requested by Australian defence force personnel, they were later tested on the same day at another hotel.

“He still met the requirement to have a daily test … but my understanding is the staff member did make comments about the fact he didn’t need to be tested at that site,” Cassar said.

“We expect the highest standards from our staff, and this has fallen well short of that.”