Hotel quarantine inquiry LIVE updates: People released while potentially COVID-19 positive; Victorian CHO Brett Sutton fronts hearing

Watch live: Hotel inquiry hearing

Today's hotel inquiry hearing is under way. You can watch it live, below:

Document suggests only 'high risk' returned travellers be quarantined

Professor Sutton has been asked about edits in a document that suggest only "high risk" returned travellers be made to quarantine.

Professor Sutton said he could not recall if those edits were his, but insisted his view at the outset was for all returned travellers to be quarantined in hotels.

Although it was a constraint on individual liberties, it was "necessary and proportionate" to do so, he said.

We're at the first 15 minute break.

Traveller 'potentially' left quarantine while infected

More on apparent gaps in hotel testing.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Ben Ihle cited an example of a person who completed quarantine at the Stamford Plaza and then tested positive for COVID-19.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Ben Ihle

The genomics traced their version of the virus back to the hotel, where there had been an outbreak of coronavirus among returned travellers and security guards working there in June.

"That person, unaware they were COVID positive, actually transmitted COVID to the person who drove them away from hotel quarantine," Mr Ihle said.

Professor Sutton said "that is potentially the case, they would have been questioned as to whether they had any symptoms and would have been released."

"I think that has become part of the reflections on strengthening the testing regiment in hotel quarantine for that very purpose," he said.

People released from quarantine while potentially COVID-positive

The inquiry has just heard people were released from hotel quarantine without knowing if they were positive for COVID-19 or not.

In the first stages of the program, which began on March 29, testing was voluntary and only given to those with symptoms.

Professor Sutton is appearing at Day 18 of the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry

Two sets of tests were then introduced, on day three and day 11 of the fortnight that international arrivals were in quarantine.

Still, the testing was voluntary, at least until a new law was introduced so that people who refused to be tested on day 11 could be held for a further 10 days.

But even if someone agreed to a day 11 test and returned a positive sample, they couldn't be held for longer than the 14-day period.

The inquiry heard these people who were positive and released were then subjected to isolation orders are home.

Refresher: Sutton learnt of hotel failures through the media

We heard this morning Professor Sutton and his team gave advice about infection control such as cleaning and personal protective equipment.

After that, they were hands off. Remember this story about how Professor Sutton first learnt of hotel quarantine problems through the media?

Professor Sutton was asked on August 7 when he first became aware of serious problems in the quarantine program.

The Rydges on SwanstonCredit:Penny Stephens

"I knew about problems in hotel quarantine when it was in the media," he said.

"Well obviously we were aware of outbreaks at the Stamford [Plaza] hotel and the Rydges [on Swanston] hotel – but my public health team responded to those outbreaks so we were aware of the transmission that occurred.

"But in terms of other rumours and reporting around deficiencies with the workforce, in those settings, the first I heard [about it] was when I read it in the newspapers."

Sutton also Victoria's Human Biosecurity Officer. This is why that's relevant

We heard this morning that Professor Sutton is not only the state's Chief Health Officer, but also human biosecurity officer.

The difference is in the powers.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.Credit:Eddie Jim

There are two pieces of legislation that can be used in the pandemic, the first is the state Public Health and Wellbeing Act and the Commonwealth Biosecurity Act.

The inquiry heard the biosecurity powers are not well-tailored when making orders with respect to a lot of people.

Professor Sutton said the intention of the biosecurity powers is to manage the risk of the importation of human diseases at ports of entry into Australia.

The Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act has been used the most in the pandemic and it's responsible for those restrictions that we know all too well – staying home, the curfew and wearing masks.

Professor Sutton said the legal advice to him was that these powers, under the state Act, "were more appropriate in this setting".

CHO's team had no oversight of on-the-ground infection control

We're hearing about Professor Sutton and his team's role.

Professor Sutton said his job was to provide advice, such as advice on infection control, to the Health Department.

The lawyer leading questioning for the inquiry today, Ben Ihle, put to him that the public health command's advice was deployed into the system at large, "but your team doesn't have oversight into how those policies are being proliferated and whether and how they're being complied with."

"I think that's a fair statement," Professor Sutton replied.

He agreed with Mr Ihle that his team was not aware of how sufficient the infection control measures, such as cleaning, were in hotel quarantine until the outbreaks.

His team's advice would go to "innumerable settings across the state" such as public transport settings and residential settings so oversight of how that guidance or policy direction was implemented was not part of his remit, the inquiry heard.

This is what we might expect

One of the issues Professor Sutton is expected to be questioned on is why he wasn't given the role of state controller, which technically under Victoria's emergency plan, is supposed to be the Chief Health Officer.

Brett Sutton at today’s hearings

Health Department deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck previously told the inquiry she recommended Professor Sutton did not take on the role because he would be too busy in his lead advisory role and as the public face of the pandemic response to also serve as state controller.

Sitting in front of Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton at the moment is his 48-page statement to the inquiry, dated August 13. We have learnt he is also Victoria's chief biosecurity officer.

Brett Sutton is now on the (virtual) stand

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has taken the (virtual) stand. He has taken an affirmation and will be questioned by counsel assisting the inquiry Ben Ihle.

To bring you up to speed, yesterday we heard Australian Defence Force troops were, in fact, on offer to the Victorian government from the beginning of hotel quarantine but were never taken up.

The evidence contradicted earlier statements by Premier Daniel Andrews and the state’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp that military support for the quarantine effort was not offered.

Listen here:

'Considerable risk' to health and safety of hotel quarantine detainees

A Victorian public health official warned senior government figures, including Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, that there was considerable risk to the health and safety of people detained in hotel quarantine.

The email, released by the Victorian inquiry into the scheme, was from Public Health Commander Dr Finn Romanes and was sent on April 9, within two weeks of the quarantine program starting.

Dr Romanes, a former deputy chief health officer, wrote there was "a lack of a unified plan for this program" and the people running the program were not "satisfied there is a policy and set processes to manage the healthcare and welfare of detainees, for whom this program is accountable."

"There are now considerable complexity and considerable risk that unless governance and plans issues are addressed there will be a risk to the health and safety of detainees," Dr Romanes said.

The email was addressed to state controller Andrea Spiteri and the deputy state controller. Professor Sutton and his deputy Annaliese van Diemen were copied into the email along with Health Department commanders Pam Williams and Merrin Bamert, and department deputy secretary Jacinda de Witts.

Professor Sutton and Dr van Diemen are due to appear before the inquiry today.

Watch live: Hotel inquiry hearing

Today's hotel inquiry hearing is under way. You can watch it live, below:

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