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REVEALED: Govt event staff "seconded to work" in medi-hotels

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EXCLUSIVE | Government event staff have been seconded to work in “high-risk” COVID-19 hotspots, with one counselled for wearing a “stolen” uniform while moonlighting at a city medi-hotel, InDaily can reveal.

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Staff employed by the State Government-owned Adelaide Venue Management Corporation – most of whom are casually employed and on limited shifts since the coronavirus pandemic hit the events sector – were last week told that SA Health required them “to provide essential services to assist during the lockdown”.

In a staff bulletin seen by InDaily, CEO Anthony Kirchner wrote late on Wednesday – the day the later-aborted six-day lockdown was declared – that “the majority of AVM’s full and part time staff will be working from home until further notice”.

“However, AVM has been requested by SA Health to provide essential services to assist during the lockdown and therefore we’ll also have people continuing to work within our venues,” he said.

AVM operates the Entertainment Centre, the Convention Centre and Coopers Stadium. InDaily has been told at least some of the work involves the preparation and delivery of meals to city medi-hotels.

Kirchner’s bulletin also notes “Event Staff may also be called into work at the Adelaide Convention Centre and Adelaide Entertainment Centre to assist where available”.

“Let’s ensure that we all play our part in helping local authorities get on top of the virus,” he said.

The following day he sent a further alert, declaring: “It has come to AVM’s attention that some AVM Event Staff have recently been seconded to work in relatively high-risk workplaces where the coronavirus has been known to be present.”

He suggested this had been done without the knowledge of management, saying: “AVM has no issues with this important work being undertaken but requires that any AVM employee undertaking work in locations that fit this description immediately advise the AVM rostering team until further notice.”

“As I advised yesterday, AVM is providing very important essential services to assist during the current lockdown [and] AVM’s ability to provide these essential services is likely to be immediately compromised should an AVM employee who works in one of our venues become infected with the virus or be known to have been in close contact with someone that’s infected,” he said.

“Again, if this is you at any time, please immediately contact AVM’s rostering team.”

He then noted that “very disappointingly, today an AVM Event Staff member was identified wearing an AVM uniform whilst working for another employer and undertaking work in a high-risk location” – understood to be a medi-hotel.

“Apart from the fact that this employee had stolen the uniform, it is also totally unacceptable for a person to wear an AVM uniform whilst working for another employer,” Kirchner declared, reminding “all employees of the need to strictly comply with AVM’s uniform policy”.

Asked to clarify the nature of the work, whether he was comfortable with staff working second jobs in medi-hotels and whether staff had been seconded to medi-hotels without the knowledge of AVM management, Kirchner told InDaily: “AVM has no issues or concerns with any of the above, just simply reinforcing key messages by way of staff newsletters.”

“I’m not able to comment further,” he said.

A meal delivered to a person staying at the Peppers medi-hotel, with the AVM logo visible on the paper inside the box. Photo: Supplied

The revelation will intensify scrutiny of the South Australia’s medi-hotel regime, after the Victorian Government last week moved to act on a review recommendation that “every effort must be made to ensure that all personnel working at [medi-hotels] are not working across multiple quarantine sites and not working in other forms of employment”.

Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier today confirmed systemic improvement of medi-hotels was discussed at a meeting of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee yesterday.

“We are very keen to come up with the best possible advice around how to run medi-hotels,” she told reporters.

Asked whether there had been a resolution about people working across multiple sites or in second jobs, she said: “I can’t answer that specific question about that specific aspect of medi-hotels, because there’s a whole range of things to be considered.”

It comes as SA Police today revealed they had examined extensive CCTV footage of the Peppers medi-hotel – from which the Parafield Cluster emanated – and were considering whether there had been “people going in that shouldn’t have been there”.

Ambiguity surrounds an ongoing police taskforce – Operation Protect – which was announced on the day authorities revealed a pizza bar worker’s lie had sent the state into lockdown, with Premier Steven Marshall telling ABC Radio on Friday SAPOL would pursue “all and every avenue to throw the book at this person”.

The 36-year-old Spaniard had also been working “back of house” in the kitchen of the Stamford medi-hotel – but authorities said today he was a subcontractor and not directly employed by the hotel.

But Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey, who heads to investigation, has revealed the police inquiry has thus far focussed on the Peppers Hotel, rather than the Stamford, telling ABC Radio today: “There are a lot of sub-plots within the investigation which I can’t go into and we undertake a process here, particularly with regard to Peppers, to see what happened, and whether it’s any relevance from a contact tracing point of view or people going in that shouldn’t have been there etcetera – and that might be of relevance to us.”

“It might be totally irrelevant in the end but it’s important – it’s quite complex, it might not make sense [from the] outside looking in but this is something that we do to help focus the final answer.”

Asked whether he believed people that “shouldn’t have been there” had accessed any medi-hotels, Commissioner Grant Stevens told reporters today: “I’m confident it hasn’t happened in the way you’re probably questioning.”

“The security arrangement in all medi-hotels is very tight,” he said, but added police wanted “to be satisfied that a person wasn’t participating in another form of employment in a medi-hotel, potentially under a different name”.

He suggested the CCTV footage had been forwarded to SA Health with a view to identifying “the original source of the movement of the virus to one of the staff members” at the hotel.

“We’re assisting Health with that, because we’ve got the equipment [and] we’ve got the expertise in reviewing the CCTV,” he said.

“From a technical point of view we’re hoping we’ll have answers for you very quickly.”

A female “back of house” worker has previously been considered the first staff member infected, but Stevens said it could also have been one of the two security guards who also caught the disease.

“We don’t have any firm view at this point in time,” he said.

Both of the security staff were employed by a private firm, and one also worked at the Woodville Pizza Bar – with authorities last week believing that is where he infected the Stamford worker, whose “lie” about not working at the same pizzeria prompted last week’s statewide lockdown.

“Had this person been truthful to the contact tracing teams, we would not have gone into a six-day lockdown,” Stevens said at the time.

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