Victoria’s chief health officer has been asked to provide an affidavit to the hotel quarantine inquiry, after emails show he may have known the program was using private security as early as 27 March.
Professor Brett Sutton had told the inquiry he was not aware of guards being used in the program until a COVID-19 outbreak at the Rydges on Swanston hotel in late May.
But two email chains that were not initially provided to the inquiry by the Department of Health and Human Services may suggest otherwise.
Senior counsel assisting the inquiry Tony Neal QC told an extraordinary sitting on Tuesday the emails finally had been handed over.
One chain begins on 30 March and ends on 2 July and includes a number of senior DHHS officials.
Mr Neal said the emails cover “matters that occupied a very considerable amount of the board’s time” during the inquiry.
“You may consider it adds some weight in one direction or another to your deliberations as to who was in charge for the detention regime,” Mr Neal told retired judge Jennifer Coate, who is heading the inquiry.
Mr Neal said a second email chain on 27 March mentions plans to use private security.
Professor Sutton is copied in an email which reads: “private security has been contracted to provide security at the hotels with escalation arrangements to Vic Pol as needed”.
He acknowledges he has seen the email by replying “thanks so much” to its author.
“As a result of this new material, those assisting you are in the process of seeking a response, in the form of an affidavit, from Prof Sutton to specific questions posed by the board and focusing on these emails,” Mr Neal said.
He said Professor Sutton had seven days to provide his explanation.
Outbreaks among security and hotel staff at Rydges and the Stamford Plaza hotels have been blamed for 99 per cent of Victoria’s COVID-19 cases since May, resulting in more than 18,000 new infections and 800 deaths.
The $6 million inquiry is due to hand down its final report on 6 November, but Ms Coate said the new revelations may cause a delay.
“I can assure all that as soon as I am in receipt of the outstanding material, if the report date is affected and needs to be extended, I will advise the premier and seek any necessary extension,” she said.
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