Victoria premier faces parliamentary inquiry over handling of COVID-19 crisis

Sydney, Australia, Aug 11 (efe-epa).- A parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday questioned Victoria’s premier over the state’s handling of COVID-19 epidemic and the outbreak in Melbourne, which is suspected to be linked to failures in complying with quarantine measures in place for international arrivals.

Victoria had accumulated some 2,200 cases of COVID-19 before the outbreak in Melbourne at the end of July, which has raised the total to more than 15,000 infections and about 250 deaths, of which 331 new cases and 19 deaths were reported Tuesday.

The origin of the outbreak is linked to alleged irregularities committed by private security company guards in charge of monitoring compliance with quarantine in the hotels provided for Australians and residents returning to Melbourne from abroad.

The Victorian government, led by Premier Daniel Andrews, has come under fire for allegedly not accepting military aid for the surveillance of Melbourne quarantine hotels.

In a virtual appearance before the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee over his government’s handling of the crisis, Andrews said that the adequacy of the security measures is currently being addressed by an independent judicial investigation that his government ordered at the beginning of July.

“I don’t believe ADF (Australian Defense Force) support was on offer. It’s been provided in limited circumstances in New South Wales, not to provide security as such but to provide transportation from the airport to hotels,” Andrews told the committee.

Local media have reported that the security guards in the hotels maintained relationships of various kinds with some of the people in quarantine, although the politician avoided commenting on this, and concerns over social distancing and safety measures.

National broadcaster ABC reported Monday that a nurse who worked at the facilities said staff at quarantine hotels relaxed measures due to guests’ threats of self-harm if they were not given permission to leave their rooms and after a suspected case of suicide in one of the hotels in April.

“We had people calling us saying ‘I’m going to kill myself if I don’t have a cigarette outside right now.’ You’ve got no choice but to take that threat seriously,” said the nurse, who did not want to be identified.

Since July 9, the Victorian authorities have confined around 5 million residents of Melbourne in a lockdown, while a nighttime curfew and the closure of non-essential economic activity were later declared.

Australia, a country that successfully managed the first wave of infections, has registered more than 21,750 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and more than 330 deaths. EFE-EPA


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