Hotel quarantine guests allowed out on ‘exercise breaks’
Guests being held in hotel quarantine were taken on walks close to the DFO shopping centre, where one tried to enter a convenience store.
And police had no idea they were being allowed out of their rooms until an employee at Vicinity, which runs the South Wharf DFO, emailed them pictures.
The photographs, taken on April 14 and 15, triggered enough concern among police that they called a meeting with private security guards to discuss arrangements for allowing guests out of their rooms.
The guests were being held at the Pan Pacific Hotel at South Wharf but were allowed out for walks around the hotel driveway after authorities became concerned the prolonged detention in hotel rooms was causing mental health concerns. A guest committed suicide at the hotel on April 11.
In documents released to the inquiry by Victoria Police Commander Tim Tully, someone from Vicinity sent pictures of guests walking on the hotel's circular driveway, while a security guard leaned on a pole and chatted to another man.
"We have got the quarantine people again out this morning. One has tried to enter a convenience store on site," the person wrote.
Commander Tully had previously told the inquiry the revelation guests were being taken on exercise breaks from their rooms prompted him to organise a meeting with the private security companies involved in the program.
"Operators have expressed some concern given that this location is in immediate vicinity of the DFO, which is still operating and being accessed by members of the public," he later wrote in an email.
"We fully understand that there is a mental health and wellbeing component to this situation. Simply, we are trying to get a 'line of sight' of the arrangements for each (of) the respective locations so that there is no misunderstanding."
In the first days of the program, minutes from an April 1 Operation Soteria meeting show a DHHS official was concerned about "nurses overrun with health and mental health needs" and said nurses wanted to have people supported by telephone to free them up.
The DHHS was also recorded as having stated on April 2 that there was a "bottleneck about mental health and anxiety issues".
On the same day, the DJRP noted "high degrees of anxiety on dietary requirements … issues with food allergies and safety".
The inquiry, before retired judge Jennifer Coate, continues on Tuesday with evidence from DHHS officials, including some who investigated the outbreaks caused by breaches at two quarantine hotels.
Originally published as Hotel quarantine guests allowed out on 'exercise breaks'