Pen and paper sign-ins are still being used by staff at Victoria’s riskiest COVID-19 workplaces despite the availability since last month of a purpose-built QR code system designed to enhance the state’s contact tracing capacity in the event of another breach of quarantine.
Alfred Health confirmed it has not adopted the government’s QR system at the two “hot” hotels it manages; the Holiday Inn on Flinders where confirmed COVID-19 cases are housed and the Elements Hotel in Richmond reserved for more complex cases.
Guests are removed from the Holiday Inn on Flinders in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in February. Credit:Luis Ascui
The QR system was procured by the Victorian government specifically for use in its hotel quarantine program in response to the outbreak in February which forced the entire state into a five-day lockdown. The system is being used to record staff movements at all other quarantine hotels.
Although Alfred Health has so far managed its quarantine hotels without an outbreak, there is growing concern within COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, the government agency established to oversee the state’s quarantine program, over its reluctance to use the new technology.
A meeting this week between Alfred Health and CQV officials failed to reach agreement on when the system would be introduced at the hot hotels.
“We remain in active discussion with CQV regarding this system and, if it meets our needs and has merit, we would certainly consider introducing it to the range of tools we already have in place to protect staff, residents and the community,” an Alfred Health spokesman said.
The spokesman said this covered a mix of technologies – including the use of QR codes to monitor staff access to some areas within the hotels – and paper-based logging of shifts.
There are currently 21 active COVID-19 cases inside the hotels. Most of these cases involve international travellers recently returned from the subcontinent, where new variants of the virus are fuelling a catastrophic epidemic.
All staff reporting to work at the two hotels manually log in on arrival and log off at the end of their shift. This means that, in the event of an outbreak at either site, contact tracers would be forced to sift through pages of hand-written entries to determine which staff might have been exposed.
The advantage of the QR system, which is supported by the SafeWorks App, is it provides a readily searchable database of when and where staff have worked. It also enables staff to record in the system their close contacts – friends and family including those who may work in other sensitive industries – before an outbreak occurs.
This capacity, known as pre-emptive contact mapping, means the time-critical process of contacting those people most likely to have come into contact with the virus at the start of an outbreak can be completed within a few hours rather than taking several days.
The absence of a digitalised database of staff movements hampered Victoria’s response to February’s Airport Holiday Inn outbreak which triggered a return to stage-four restrictions. Contact tracers deployed to the outbreak were forced to decipher hand-written log entries and match these with roster sheets.
Unreported sick days and informal shift swaps meant the records were incomplete and in some cases, contained misinformation.
Victoria’s hotel quarantine program was suspended and reviewed in response to the February outbreak. It resumed taking international travellers on April 9.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the failure to employ QR technology at the only sites where there are confirmed COVID-19 cases left the state unnecessarily exposed.
“It is bewildering that we haven’t got a QR system in place in our hot hotels,” Ms Crozier said.
“We can’t afford to have another lockdown, we have to be able to track and trace and we have to have the best systems in place.”
As of Friday, it is mandatory for many commercial businesses in Victoria to use the government’s QR code service to assist contact tracing. This includes hospitality venues, outdoor recreation centres, pools, gyms and spas, housing inspections and auctions, galleries and zoos.
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