The Victorian government is advertising roles paying up to $85,000 a year for people to work in its retooled hotel quarantine scheme, just weeks out from the return of international travellers.
Duties for the 12-month fixed-term roles would include escorting returned travellers to their hotels, conducting temperature screening and checking passenger identification, according to the position description posted by the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
Private security firms were contracted to guard returned travellers at Melbourne’s Stamford Plaza hotel.Credit: Getty Images
Applications for the "residential support officers" close at midnight on December 8, with the role drawing a maximum salary of $84,895. International flights into Melbourne – and the quarantining of overseas travellers in hotels – will restart on December 7.
Victoria's second wave of coronavirus cases, which caused the city to be locked down for months, shutting down schools, businesses and workplaces, was sparked by infections among casual security guards subcontracted to work in the government's hotel quarantine program.
However, under the new program, COVID-19 testing would be conducted throughout employment in hotel quarantine. The job advertisement states: "To ensure the safety of our staff and their family and friends, all new staff commencing will be COVID tested prior to commencement."
Professor Tony Blakely, epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, said mandatory testing for hotel quarantine workers, where they are rapid-tested daily and given a PCR test each week, should be conducted and would be a "top-notch" regime worldwide.
"You can't do any better than that. Testing of hotel quarantine workers and sometimes their families is an astute, wise thing to do," he said.
"You've got all the measures inside quarantine, such as infection control … and then on the other side of the fence is what happens out in the community, like if we pick something up via sewerage testing.
"There's kind of like a no-man's land or a fence between them, which is where I see the role of testing once a week of all staff. It's not perfect by any stretch, but it may well lower the risk by another 50 or 80 per cent."
Victoria's chief testing commander Jeroen Weimar last week said all hotel quarantine staff, including front-line workers and cleaners, would be subjected to daily saliva testing for COVID-19 and nasal swabs each week.
"The testing is there to support [front-line workers]," he said. "If it escapes from hotel quarantine, it will go the front-line workers first, and they're the ones we need to protect and detect at a very early point. It will be mission critical to get it right."
Resident support officers will be assigned to a single Melbourne CBD or airport hotel and "deployed flexibly" accross different shifts to meet operational needs, according to the position description.
A DJCS spokeswoman said the government had "strengthened infection prevention and control, oversight and professional standards across the COVID-19 accommodation program" and would have more announcements around the reset of the program soon.
International arrivals in Melbourne will initially be capped at 1120 people a week, lifting Australia's weekly cap to almost 8000 people.
Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio said she was "absolutely confident" the state's hotel quarantine system would be able to handle having up to 160 people arrive in the state a day.
"There's been a lot of work that has been put in to get the system right and to get it so we can be absolutely confident … that it is absolutely able to meet all of the requirements so we can all stay safe," she told reporters on Sunday.
Victoria recorded its 30th straight day without a confirmed COVID-19 case on Sunday, but Ms D'Ambrosio said the state's testing numbers had dropped.
There were 5905 COVID tests processed on Saturday, which she said was "about 4000 down on the day before".
The chair of the hotel quarantine inquiry, Jennifer Coate, is set to hand down her final report into the failed first scheme on December 21.
There have been 20,345 cases of COVID-19 in Victoria since January, and 819 people have died — 655 of whom were residents in aged care.
Offices in Melbourne's CBD will return to up to 25 per cent capacity for staff from Monday, subject to density limits, as part of the government's easing of coronavirus restrictions.
Businesses with fewer than 40 employees will be able to have up to 10 people on-site. Face masks still remain madatory indoors, except for those with exemptions.
"I think it's really important for us to reflect on the fact we've got another day of 'triple zeros' – zero new cases, zero active cases and zero lives lost. I do want to make one observation that the testing numbers are a little bit on the low side," Ms D'Ambrosio said.
"Yesterday was a fantastic day to get out with family and friends … so I can imagine a number of people that had mild symptoms may have put off the testing.
"But it's so important. The numbers are the only way to really know where the virus is and for us to be able to stay safe and stay open."
South Australia recorded zero new cases on Sunday, but Flinders University's Sturt campus has had to close after a positive cases attended the Intensive English Language Institute between November 13 and November 28.
All students and staff who visited the university across those two weeks have been urged to get a COVID test, even if they do not have symptoms.
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