The Australian: NSW quarantine scheme at breaking point

The NSW hotel quarantine scheme has been beset with thousands of incidents, with 169 security guards sacked and at least four overseas arrivals absconding from facilities, confidential government operational updates show.

Minutes of an October 30 meeting between NSW government officials and security company representatives also show a looming crisis in the quarantine program with contractors warning they are unable to reliably extend beyond 820 daily deployments.

As Gladys Berejiklian pushes to expand the quarantine scheme to international students and other migrants, documents show NSW Police predicting that 1200 deployments per day may be needed.

“There could be more than 60,000 commencing students with the potential to travel to NSW for Semester 1, 2021,” the document, partly an operational update given by Department of Premier and Cabinet associate director Shane Brady and obtained by The Australian, notes.

Hotel quarantine failures in Victoria and South Australia have caused both states to go into lockdown — the former for several months, resulting in more than 700 deaths linked back to a small number of overseas arrivals.

The NSW government’s Operation Coronavirus 2020 provider meeting minutes show there were “more than 2050 corrective/actions/remedial advice” notices ­issued to contractors.

“Key learnings and operational indicators suggest that the current security guard force is limited and extending beyond 820 deployment per day is unreliable,” the ­update reads.

It notes there were four incidents “where people have absconded from a quarantine hotel”, with two in July at the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel and two in October, one at the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel and the other at Rydges Sydney Central.

The document also shows that an internal investigation found a group of supervisors from one company, I-SEC, had allegedly ­engaged in suspected time sheet fraud and misconduct.

There was “the potential that this behaviour was being concealed by the remaining supervisors”, the update notes.

Nine security officers were terminated as a result of the investigation and I-SEC agreed to install an electronic sign-on/sign off program for its guards at the hotels.

Both the NSW government and I-SEC declined to comment, while a NSW Police spokesman said the matter was the subject “of a current investigation”.

The NSW hotel quarantine scheme has, to the end of October, cost $345m, with other states and territories expected to contribute about 38 per cent of that amount.

Between all the current providers, at least 3458 guards are permitted to work for ACSE, I-SEC, RedDawn and Unified Security in NSW quarantine hotels.

Since the scheme started, Glad Security, Southern Cross Group, Secure Events and Assets and Synergy Protection Agency have been removed from the program or have ceased to be given work.

The Australian reported earlier this month that one of the firms working on the hotel quarantine scheme — Unified Security — was being investigated by the NSW Police security licensing directorate and faced a possible loss of its master operating licence.

That investigation was launched “following extensive inquiries into undeclared changes of ownership and close associates to the business,” police said.

At least two security guards in the scheme have lost their licences after failing to isolate after contracting COVID-19.

Police revoked the licence of Unified guard Asad Niaz on October 19, while another guard who failed to self-isolate had his licence revoked on November 2.

A security guard who worked in the NSW quarantine scheme was infected in August and it later emerged he had also worked while infectious at Parramatta Local Court and Sydney Markets.

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