Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton (pictured), has given evidence at the coronial inquest into the August 2020 COVID-19 outbreak at St Basil’s in Melbourne.
Mr Sutton told the court he had not been aware of concerns raised by senior staff at the home that residents would be unsafe if staff were furloughed as per directions from the State Government, saying that he had not been told by his department of potential problems replacing staff and associated risks to patients, and “didn’t ask”.
According to Mr Sutton, Kon Kontis, the manager at the time, said in a letter that absent official direction he would not tell staff to leave the home; Mr Sutton then signed off on a letter directing the furlough.
“Our reading of Mr Kontis’s letter suggests that he was of the belief that his staff were no more at risk of becoming positive cases and transmitting within the facility as any replacement staff, when that is manifestly absurd.
“So, there was a refusal to furlough those staff who were regarded as close contacts. My understanding is that the refusal to accept the following direction that was given on the 19th means that there wasn’t accelerated planning and preparation for that surge workforce,” he said.
The inquest into the outbreak, which claimed the lives of 50 residents at the aged care home – 45 of whom died with the virus – continues, with Mr Kontis yet to give evidence.