“I told him the policy was bullshit, but you just had to get on with it,” he said in his submission.
He also said a returned traveller at the Crown Metropol who had tested positive was left waiting in the lobby for almost two hours without a mask and gloves, and was in the lobby for a total of 10 hours, surrounded by security guards with lax personal protective equipment.
Two nurses, Mr Tait and another identified by the inquiry only as “Nurse Jen”, told the inquiry that the Department of Health and Human Services’ management of the hotel quarantine system was shambolic and resulted in guests and healthcare workers being placed in danger and distress.
Mr Tait said no swabbing kits were available for use on incoming travellers for the first three days of his posting, even though he was hired to test guests for coronavirus.
He said he put his own health at risk when he insisted on swabbing new arrivals, even though he was not issued a face shield.
“I wasn’t comfortable doing that, but it had to be done. There was no testing going on, I had to really push it and I always put my hand up to do the swab. I thought it was very important,” Mr Tait said.
Mr Tait, who chose to stay in the hotel itself because he feared infecting his own family at home, said in one incident, the department told him not to swab someone who had COVID-19 as he had not had symptoms for three days and “will be leaving quarantine early”.
Nurses and returned travellers on Thursday gave evidence to the inquiry investigating the Victorian government’s hotel quarantine program. More than 99 per cent of the state’s current COVID-19 cases have been linked to travellers quarantined at two hotels: the Rydges on Swanston and Stamford Plaza hotel.
Nurse Jen, who worked at the ParkRoyal Melbourne Airport, told the inquiry that the department effectively told a guest contemplating suicide to “stop being so dramatic”.
“They had specifically called this guest in the room and told them that they needed to stop threatening suicide just so they can get a cigarette,” she said.
A simple request for a kettle from a woman in extreme pain who wanted to boil water to prepare traditional medicince was refused by department staff who said anything electrical had to be “tagged and tested”, nurse Jen said.
Their testimony also put a focus on the agency they both worked for, Your Nursing Agency, with both nurses saying they were no longer rostered on for shifts after they raised concerns.
Nurse Jen told the inquiry there were enough nurses rostered on each shift at the ParkRoyal, but some who were designated mental health nurses were not qualified. She encountered some who were enrolled nurses but had not completed a degree to be properly qualified as mental health nurses.
One nurse rostered as a mental health nurse was in distress after hearing about a guest who had taken their own life in another hotel and had tried not to be rostered on a mental health shift when she wasn’t qualified, she said.
Mr Tait said nurses were overwhelmed with the number of guests, with a ratio of one nurse to 100 or 150 guests.
Despite the challenges, he said he was proud of his work in hotel quarantine.
“I had a real sense of pride being part of a team that was tasked with the impossible … we were really in it together,” he said.
Prominent human rights lawyer Hugh de Kretser, who was quarantined at the Rydges on Swanston, said his room was filthy despite his stay coming after the first outbreaks at the hotel and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton issuing a full review of health protocols.
Mr de Kretser said he found a plastic glove and a face mask under the bed, food crumbs on the floor and stains on the doonas.
“We expected that our room would be thoroughly clean and smelling of disinfectant. It was the opposite,” he said.
He wasn’t given a 15-minute fresh air break until day 12 of 14.
Another returned traveller, whose identity was suppressed at his request, detailed how his wife, 28 weeks pregnant, was in tears when hotel staff said she could not go outside for fresh air, while it was up to him to organise his family’s dietary requirements.
He said he was told “You knew what you were in for”.
Kate Hyslop and Ricky Singh, who were quarantined in April for 14 days in Crown Metropol, told the inquiry they weren’t once given a fresh air break and nor were they ever tested for COVID-19.
When they left quarantine, they weren’t told to wear a mask and were able to hail a taxi to a hire car business before they drove interstate.
The hearings continue on Friday with evidence from one of DHHS’ authorised officers who worked in hotel quarantine and quit in disgust. The authorised officers were often public servants from other disciplines, such as sheriffs, gambling and liquor enforcement.
Tammy Mills is the legal affairs reporter for The Age.
Michael is a state political reporter for The Age.