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Man who left hotel quarantine to go to pub jailed

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A man who “cracked” during quarantine and escaped from an Adelaide medi-hotel to spend a night out drinking at a city pub has been jailed for putting the state at significant risk of COVID-19.

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Paul McElhinney was nearing the end of his 14-day quarantine period, after returning from overseas, when he left the Grand Chancellor medi-hotel on Hindley St at about 10pm on August 12, lied to police and spent eight hours in the community.

He went to the Duke of York Hotel on Currie Street and visited a nearby McDonald’s, before returning to the medi-hotel, drunk, at 6am.

The Sydney man – who was fully vaccinated and had previously tested negative to the virus – was arrested last week after completing his quarantine and charged with breaching the Emergency Management Act, to which he pleaded guilty.

This morning, an Adelaide magistrate jailed the 33-year-old, saying although he was a “good man” who was grieving the loss of his father, the court had to send a strong message to the community.

“Your actions had the potential to spread the COVID-19 virus to anyone who may have been in any of the premises you visited on that night,” Magistrate John Fahey told him.

“Your decision to ignore the quarantine may have jeopardised the considerable precautions taken by the Department of Health… to keep the virus out of this state.

“Fortunately you were not contagious and your irresponsible actions did not have the fact of spreading the virus.

“The fact is though you may have spread the virus… and you caused significant problems for the police who had to deploy additional resources to find you.”

Fahey said McElhinney, a married father, had arrived in Adelaide on August 3 from Scotland, via Singapore, where he had attended his father’s funeral.

On August 12, he left the Grand Chancellor medi-hotel via an emergency exit which took him into the basement carpark.

“There you encountered some police officers and then you were questioned by them and you misled them into believing you were not in quarantine,” Fahey said.

“You were away from the hotel for many hours during which time you visited a McDonald’s restaurant and the Duke of York Hotel.

“You returned to the (medi) hotel after many hours, you were very drunk when you got back and the truth of your breach of quarantine was soon discovered.”

Fahey said McElhinney “could not have been unaware of the sensitivity of the COVID-19 issue here and indeed throughout the country and the need for the entire community to act responsibly”.

“We know now that you could not infect anyone but that’s not the point,” Fahey said.

“You were directed to quarantine and you failed to comply and there has to be a consequence for that.

“The community needs to know there will be serious consequences for those who flaunt the emergency regulations.

“This means that any penalty imposed by this court must have a personal deterrent effect on you – that is that you are appropriately punished – but it must also have a general deterrent effect, that is a message to the community that regulations must be observed.”

Fahey said although he believed McElhinney was a “good man” who holds “a responsible managerial role in Sydney”, he had to be punished for his irresponsible actions.

“Unfortunately you had almost completed your 14-day isolation when you left the hotel,” Fahey said.

“I was told that you were in an emotional response to your father’s death and your separation from your family.

“You just cracked.”

Fahey jailed McElhinney for two weeks and backdated the sentence by a week, to when he was taken into custody.

A police investigation last week found failings in the medi-hotel system had contributed to the breach.

Police Commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens said human error was largely to blame for enabling McElhinney to walk out of his room, undetected, and leave the Grand Chancellor medi-hotel through a fire exit stairwell.

“We acknowledge this was a failing and we’ve taken steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Stevens said last week.

The investigation found it took seven seconds for McElhinney to leave his room and enter the fire exit without being seen on CCTV which is monitored 24-hours a day by two staff.

There were no guards in the hallway and there was no alarm on the fire exit.

Stevens said a security patrol downstairs should have questioned McElhinney more before allowing him to leave the carpark.

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