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Transport worker says ‘loopholes’ in hotel quarantine to blame for Delta outbreak, not Bondi limo driver

With zero-COVID looking less possible, experts say Greater Sydney needs a new focus to curb the Delta outbreak. Source: AAP

A limousine driver who knows the Bondi man at the centre of Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak says the state government is using him as a "scapegoat" for failures in the quarantine system.

The man who referred to himself as Mr Liu told SBS Chinese that Sydney’s first locally acquired case in June – a Bondi driver in his 60s - was not to blame for the current crisis, but rather weaknesses in the quarantine system.

As a non-essential worker and resident of the southwest Sydney LGA of Canterbury-Bankstown, Mr Liu has been ordered to stay home and adhere to strict guidelines. 

But prior to Sydney’s latest lockdown, he worked as a driver transporting international arrivals home after their 14-day hotel quarantine period.

It was while working as a driver that he got to know the Bondi man who was diagnosed with the Delta variant on June 16, which subsequently led to more infections. 

Mr Liu said when cases leak, officials are "quick to track down and blame the infected contact".

He explained that he has spent “some time” observing quarantine staff at the front of city and suburban quarantine hotels.  

“When we pick up guests from the hotel ... we sometimes spend a bit of time waiting, so I watch frontline hotel staff at work," he said.  

"Also, when guests get into my car, I find out about what goes on inside these hotels.”

Mr Liu said the biggest “loophole” in the system was the “simplicity” of personal protective equipment (PPE) that hotel staff wear.

“Although they wear masks, goggles and protective masks while working, they do not wear a full set of protective clothing. The hair sticking out of their protective gear and the soles on their shoes could be contaminated with the virus.

“As far as I know, at least before the latest outbreak, most frontline staff were able to go home directly after finishing their shift.”

Over the past year and a half, he said there have been a number of occasions when cases have reached community members in Sydney and Melbourne from contacts in hotel quarantine.  

“This is a very big loophole,” Mr Liu said.

“I want to emphasise that protective clothing is extremely important.”

A NSW Health spokesperson told SBS Chinese a strengthened Public Health order mandates at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for designated airport workers, designated quarantine workers and designated transport providers.

Anyone entering or staying at a quarantine facility must always wear a mask, according to the NSW Health website.

Hotel quarantine staff are also required to undergo saliva tests, as an early detection strategy in asymptomatic people.

Those who refuse cannot enter the facility.  

Employers have had to ensure their staff comply with the latest requirements.  

But Mr Liu believes these measures don't go far enough.

“The crux of the problem is that these standards are not strict enough, from PPE to training to the supervision of personnel.”

He said the government should consider upgrading PPE for all frontline workers, order them to serve an isolation period and undergo nucleic acid testing after a working period of time.

“They can then return to the community after returning a negative result, thereby reducing the risk of another outbreak.”

NSW Health said it is working closely with NSW Police to ensure transport providers understand and adhere to infection control procedures.

Mr Liu did not disclose the list of quarantine hotels that displayed what he believes are "sub-standard" pandemic prevention measures. 

“There are seven or eight quarantine hotels in the city centre and suburbs where I see the problems are common.”

Though Mr Liu said he had suffered the loss of income due to the latest lockdown, he believes complying with the rules “does not prevent infection”.

“I personally support the stricter measures. The more relaxed ‘Buddhist-style’ lockdown was not strict enough to contain the virus.

“We must know that our primary purpose is to prevent the import and spread of the virus, to protect health and the right to life. It’s essential to restore the country and get it back to normalcy before there’s any talk of human rights and freedom.”

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