The inquiry has heard Victoria Police preferred private security as the “first line of security” and did not have a presence inside the hotels. Instead, the force provided “perimeter support” outside and responded to emergency calls.
Mr Nagi said NSW police involvement in its quarantine program worked.
“That’s been really effective,” he said.
Mr Coppick told the inquiry that in NSW, the Australian Defence Force supported the entry and exit of quarantined guests and delivered care packages and food inside the hotels.
“They maintain a permanent presence inside the hotels?” inquiry chair Jennifer Coate asked.
“Yes,” Mr Coppick replied.
He said Victoria’s Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions had got the structure of the state’s program right, but the Department of Health and Human Services had needed to provide more training related to COVID-19.
Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, set up with the aim of preventing transmission from arriving travellers,is under scrutiny because COVID-19 was spread in May to a hotel worker and security guards, then into the community.
The inquiry has heard 99 per cent of Victoria’s deadly second COVID-19 spike can be traced back to quarantined travellers at two Melbourne hotels, the Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Plaza.
Questions have been raised in the inquiry as to why Unified Security became the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions’ security company of choice when it was not on the government’s preferred security suppliers panel. There have also been allegations that guards were poorly trained in infection control.
Unified Security Group was awarded at least $20 million more in contracts than the government’s two other providers, Wilson Security and MSS Security, to run 13 hotels.
With just 39 permanent staff in Victoria, Unified relied almost entirely on subcontracting arrangements to hire more than 1700 guards, the inquiry heard.
Wilson and MSS had more than 1000 permanent employees, although both firms still needed to draw on staff from subcontractors.
“Were you ever given an explanation about why it was that so many hotels were being allocated to Unified?” counsel assisting the commission, Rachel Ellyard, asked Mr Coppick.
“No, not at all … I was contacted and I was asked if we could support … if we could provide the service safely, then we would,” he said.
Ms Ellyard asked if there was ever a discussion about the risk of the company over-extending itself.
“No, not with the department or with my senior leadership group within the organisation. We were comfortable with our abilities and we delivered,” Mr Coppick said.
He said many of the workers employed by the subcontractors were people who had been laid off because of the pandemic. They had been employed at Crown casino, in aviation and in retail, he said.
Mr Coppick said all guards contracted by Unified were required to complete an online training module in COVID-19 before they started. They were also trained in how to use personal protective equipment on-site by Unified.
Despite Rydges quarantining only people with COVID-19, Mr Coppick said there was nothing dramatically different about infection control measures there, apart from more support from nurses on-site.
Mr Nagi also confirmed there was a change in PPE protocol at Rydges in May, shortly before the outbreak.
Although he said there was no shortage of PPE, he claimed nurses gave zip-lock bags to guards to put the masks and gloves they had been wearing inside.
He said they were also advised that PPE was not required unless they could not maintain distance from guests. Unified told its guards to continue to wear PPE regardless, the inquiry heard.
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This evidence came after a subcontracted guard previously testified that he was told to use one mask and one pair of gloves for a whole shift.
Mr Nagi said Unified had an “ample supply of PPE”.
The hotel quarantine program was significantly reduced in Victoria in June when all international flights were diverted from the state.
Management of the scheme also changed hands from the DHHS to the Department of Corrections.
Tammy Mills is the legal affairs reporter for The Age.