Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has been asked to provide new information about the state’s bungled hotel quarantine operation.
Professor Brett Sutton told the inquiry in September that he was unaware security guards were minding returned travellers in Melbourne CBD hotels prior to an outbreak of COVID-19 now seen as the beginning of a second wave that claimed hundreds of lives.
But a report in The Age newspaper claims Department of Health and Human Services sources close to Prof Sutton are “surprised” by his evidence – they reportedly suggest he knew about the arrangement much earlier.
The board of inquiry has acted on the perceived discrepancy in his testimony, asking DHHS to send further documents to be scrutinised.
The inquiry is expected to deliver its findings next month after evidence from the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and now-former Health Minister Jenny Mikakos.
The news about Prof Sutton comes after Mr Andrews’ right-hand man, department secretary Chris Eccles, resigned after evidence provided to the inquiry turned out to be false.
Mr Eccles gave evidence that he did not phone Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton on the day that a decision was made to use private security in hotel quarantine.
A closer look at his phone records revealed he did in fact make that phone call.
The Premier said Mr Eccles’ resignation was the “right thing” given his evidence to the inquiry was so clearly contradicted.
During Prof Sutton’s evidence in September, he said: “I have not been involved in giving directions, instructions or guidance to private security contractors.
“As explained, prior to the outbreaks I was not aware that security guards were being used.
“There are a number of vulnerabilities with respect to transmission risk because of that workforce. The demographics of that workforce cohort provide for significant risks of transmission within the community.”
But, as The Age reports, Ms Mikakos told the inquiry Prof Sutton was copied in on an email to DHHS officials on March 27, months before the outbreak.
The email referred to the National Cabinet meeting that was the starting point for Australia’s mandatory hotel quarantine rules.
The Victorian opposition has used the news to call for the inquiry to be reopened. They say there are too many holes in the evidence provided.
The state recorded just two new coronavirus cases on Friday. It is the lowest daily increase in COVID-19 cases in Victoria in 129 days. There were no new deaths.
The Premier is putting the finishing touches on an announcement on Sunday about easing restrictions that have seen Melburnians locked down for months and businesses forced to close their doors.
It is not yet clear which restrictions will be eased as the state moved to the next phase of its roadmap, but Mr Andrews says the steps he is planning to announce will make it easier for Victorians to connect with their loved ones.