Two reviews have been launched into Western Australia’s hotel quarantine system as the state recorded no new cases of Covid on the first day of a five-day lockdown of Perth and the south-west.
The premier, Mark McGowan, said on Monday there were no new cases from 3,171 tests on Sunday as 11 close contacts of a security guard – who contracted the virus working in the hotel quarantine system – were moved to managed isolation facilities.
A total of 66 close contacts have been ordered to quarantine.
McGowan called on more people to come forward for testing and 15 police checkpoints have been set up in Perth, Peel and the south-west region to ensure people are not entering or exiting the area unless they have an exemption.
The premier said fly-in fly-out mine workers in the regions would not be allowed to go to the mines except in limited circumstances.
WA police will conduct an investigation into the movements of the privately-employed security guard from 25 January onwards – the earliest date he is believed to have been infectious.
Another review, led by former state chief health officer Prof Tarun Weeramanthri, will look at the processes and procedures in the hotel quarantine system and incorporate lessons from reviews conducted in other states and internationally.
“We will leave no stone unturned to ensure we find out exactly what happened to prevent it from happening again,” McGowan said on Monday.
The security guard called in sick on 28 January after developing symptoms, visited his doctor on 29 January, and got tested on 30 January.
WA police commissioner Chris Dawson said authorities had already contacted rideshare companies Uber, Ola, and Didi and been told the man had not registered any trips as a rideshare driver during the period he was infectious. Dawson said police would investigate the man’s movements as if it was a criminal investigation – but stressed the man had been cooperative with authorities and had done nothing wrong.
The man previously told contact tracers he had not worked as a rideshare driver since 22 January.
McGowan said the government had been examining the issue of security guards in hotel quarantine holding second jobs. A pay rise of up to 40% – to make a second job unnecessary – was one of the options being considered.
“I have requested that health work on that for at least the past three months and that is … a complex issue to resolve,” McGowan said. “We are nearing a resolution and we expect we will get to a resolution in the course of next week. It may well involve initial payments for people who work in the hotels and the quarantine hotels, in particular those who are required to be tested, saliva tested or PCR tested during the course of a week.”
McGowan said the issue had been delayed because of the difficulty of enforcing the single job rule with private security companies. He also dismissed criticism of the time it took to implement daily testing of all hotel quarantine staff in Perth – which was agreed to in national cabinet on 8 January.
WA began trialling daily testing at one hotel in Perth on 20 January and rolled it out to all facilities on 29 January. The hotel security guard who tested positive had been subject to weekly testing and tested negative three times in the days before his symptoms appeared.
McGowan said the state had already conducted three reviews of its hotel quarantine system since it was implemented in March 2020 and had “consistently upgraded and improved our systems over the course of the past year”.
“Obviously, this event has meant that we will now do a further review to see what else we can do to make sure our systems are sound,” he said. “This is not something we anticipated although it has happened in virtually every other part of Australia before. We are now doing our best to deal with a difficult situation.”
Epidemiologist Prof Michael Toole, from Melbourne’s Burnet Institute, said the similarities between this case and the Victorian, NSW, Queensland and South Australian outbreaks linked to hotel quarantine were frustrating.
“It’s groundhog day,” Toole told Guardian Australia.
The employment of private security guards was at the centre of the hotel quarantine inquiry in Victoria, which led to an overhaul of the system and the adoption of the new national standard for daily testing of all hotel quarantine workers. Issues of inadequate PPE use were also raised in Victoria, and an exposure linked to a hotel security guard working a second job prompted a six-day lockdown in Adelaide.
Toole said it was disappointing to see some of the same issues occurring in WA seven months after the Victorian hotel quarantine breach.
“It makes sense to learn from what Victoria went through,” Toole said. He said he was very supportive of the WA government going into an immediate hard lockdown. “This whole epidemic started with one person. It’s better to overreact than under-react.”
The WA chief health officer, Dr Andy Robertson, said the health department had investigated claims the air conditioning in the Four Points Sheraton in Perth could have been recirculating the virus and found them to be inaccurate – the hotel does not have a recirculating air conditioner.
Robertson also said the guard had been compliant with PPE protocols.
Asked why the man had taken two days to get a Covid-19 test after falling sick, and why his illness had not been chased up by the department of health, Robertson said he had symptoms which were consistent with Covid but were not respiratory, so he initially thought he may have something else.
No state or territory recorded locally-acquired cases of Covid-19 on Monday. New South Wales recording six cases in hotel quarantine while Victoria reported one in hotel quarantine.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Monday the government had planned to give every Australian the opportunity to be vaccinated by October – adding another $1.9bn to the vaccine rollout for a total of $6.3bn.
Morrison said vaccinations should be ready for distribution to priority groups in late February.