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$240k for five days' food: SA's eye-watering medi-hotel bill

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The Government-owned Adelaide Venue Management Corporation was paid almost $240,000 to provide catering for guests at two medi-hotels for just five days, parliament has been told.

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InDaily revealed in November that government event staff had been “seconded” to perform “essential services” during that month’s statewide lockdown.

This included the delivery of meals prepared by AVM for people quarantining in two medi-hotels – the Stamford and the Peppers, which was at the centre of the quarantine breach that sparked SA’s brief outbreak.

An estimates hearing asked at the time how much income the government-owned corporation had derived from its medi-hotel work, with an answer being tabled last week, revealing the total bill was $239,038 plus GST.

Premier Steven Marshall told parliament in a written statement that “no contract was entered into for the provision of these services”, which were provided from November 18 to 22.

During that time inbound international flights were grounded but several recent arrivals were instructed to begin their 14-day quarantine again, while thousands of close contacts of cases associated with the Parafield cluster were placed in mandatory isolation.

“AVM was requested by the Department of Health and Wellbeing to provide urgent assistance by way of provision of food for guests quarantined in two medi-hotels,” Marshall said.

AVM CEO Anthony Kirchner confirmed the five day period from November 18 – the day a six-day lockdown was first declared, although it was called off after just three – but declined to disclose how many guests were provided for or meals prepared, saying it could “compromise Government negotiations on rates with hotels on this matter”.

“It was based in the same per-day rate per person that the hotels were charging, as advised by SA Health,” he said.

While it’s not known how many guests were staying in either the Peppers or Stamford at the time, it’s understood they have a total capacity of 537 rooms between them – which means the maximum daily amount that could have been offset, even if every room was used by a guest paying the full $3000 bill for 14 days, would still be less than half the value of the catering bill alone.

It’s prompted Opposition calls for the release of the “true cost” of the Marshall Government’s medi-hotel regime, with a standalone facility to house COVID-positive patients, staffed by SA Health and SAPOL, opening today at the city Tom’s Court Hotel.

“A quarter of a million dollars for just five days of food is a very substantial sum and shows the costs involved in the medi-hotel arrangements,” said Labor’s Health spokesman Chris Picton.

“While international travellers are charged a fee, the government should release figures on the true cost to taxpayers of the program once private security guards, food, cleaning, transport and other costs are included.

“The government should be open and transparent about the true costs of their medi-hotel program – if just five days of food costs a quarter of a million dollars, it is likely the fees paid by travellers would be just a fraction of the total costs of the program.”

Treasurer Rob Lucas said while he didn’t know the exact figure, the costs borne by guests were “nowhere near the total cost” of delivering the medi-hotel service.

“The honest answer is it costs many millions,” he said, noting there were fixed staffing costs even when the hotels were not heavily populated.

Lucas said health and police had been given unprecedented budget freedom to handle the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t think I’ve ever said they have a blank cheque, but it’s a virtual… they’ve still got to justify expenditure but if they can justify expenditure we meets the costs,” he said.

“Clearly our priority is to keep people safe [so] it’s a fairly easy case to be made when someone says, ‘Hey, we’ve got to have a medi-hotel here or there, or extra capacity for a hospital.

“In a different environment, we might have an argument about it.”

It comes as the hotel quarantine system is again in the national spotlight with another Melbourne medi-hotel worker testing positive for coronavirus yesterday.

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