Coronavirus Victoria: Brett Sutton’s boss Melissa Skilbeck removed over hotel quarantine failures

Pressure is mounting on Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton after he was warned about the failures in Melbourne’s hotel quarantine system more than a month before the first outbreak was detected.

Professor Sutton and other top public health officials were told in April about inadequate supply of masks and gloves, poor infection-control protocols, and breaches of physical-distancing guidelines by hotel staff, security and medical personnel, The Age reported.

Melissa Skilbeck, deputy secretary of Victoria’s Health Department, has subsequently been stripped of her responsibilities in the days after Premier Daniel Andrews announced a judicial inquiry into the quarantine program.

The failures have set off a chain of cases contributing to the lockdown of more than 300,000 Victorians across 10 Melbourne suburbs.

The Age reported Ms Skilbeck was responsible for regulation, health protection and emergency management of the COVID-19 pandemic and hotel quarantine system.

Deputy secretaries can earn as much as $340,000 a year. She will retain the position but have her responsibilities redrawn.

Professor Sutton sits directly below Ms Skilbeck in the department’s organisational structure.

The Rydges outbreak, which infected more than 20 staff and their close contacts, was first identified on May 27, while the Stamford outbreak started on June 17 and has grown to 35 cases.

The first case of coronavirus at the Rydges on Swanston hotel was confirmed on May 27. Picture: NCA NewsWire
media_cameraThe first case of coronavirus at the Rydges on Swanston hotel was confirmed on May 27. Picture: NCA NewsWire

This week, Premier Daniel Andrews announced a judicial review into the system, confirming the cases caused by hotel outbreaks were the major contributor to Victoria’s recent spike in infections.

Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the review was not good enough.

“Victorians deserve answers. In fact, Victorians deserve an apology for what has gone wrong here. But the most important thing is for the government to be honest,” Mr O’Brien told the Today show.

“Other states did the right thing. They brought in the ADF (Australian Defence Force), they brought in their own police. Daniel Andrews decided to go with untrained, unprofessional security guards who allegedly were sleeping with the guests … It was just a bad decision.”

Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said Ms Mikakos should resign after what Ms Crozier argued was deficient handling of the hotel clusters and the earlier Cedar Meats outbreak.

“If these reports are correct, it looks like a senior bureaucrat has been forced to take the fall for the Health Minister’s incompetence and continued pressure for her own resignation following the hotel quarantine bungle which has contributed to the continued increase of COVID-19 cases in Victoria,” she told The Age.

Professor Sutton has been approached for comment.

Originally published as Sutton had early warning of hotel disaster

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