Police in COVID hunt for phantom travellers
NSW Police were sent on pointless COVID isolation checks by an automated system before the people they were looking for had even entered the state.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal police had to scramble to tighten COVID procedures as thousands of people received special permits to cross the NSW border from virus-riddled Victoria.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian shut the border on July 8, meaning people who wanted to enter NSW required a permit and had to self-isolate unless they had an exemption. Those granted permits had 14 days to make the trip before the permit expired.
Confusion arose when Service NSW began forwarding the permits to NSW Police to carry out isolation checks. Incoming travellers were flagged for a police check from the date the permit was issued rather than the date they arrived.
Home after home visited by police did not contain the target individuals, who later informed officers in follow-up calls they were still in Victoria and were often days away from leaving.
Police could not put a number on the times they prematurely knocked on doors, but said once they realised the glitch they began phoning people first.
Officers were faced with a monumental job of checking on returning NSW residents, with 13,561 granted permits to re-enter the state between July 22 and August 5.
The Daily Telegraph understands police on the ground became frustrated at the wasted resources, as did their bosses.
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Leanne McCusker put the issue to down "teething problems".
"When the border operation began, Commissioner (Mick) Fuller asked the community to be patient while the permit system was rolled out. Being the first operation of its kind, teething problems were inevitable," Ms McCusker told The Daily Telegraph.
"This issue was relatively minor, and quickly identified and overcome. We now have a tried and tested system in place that is effective and efficient."
Three weeks into the border shutdown the government reduced the permit expiry window from 14 days to three to try to fix the problem.
It was not until August 10 that a QR code system was introduced at the border, allowing travellers to scan in electronically when they physically arrived in the state.
On August 5, Premier Gladys Berejiklian extended the hotel quarantine system to include anyone entering from Victoria and exemptions.
RULES AROUND COVID CLEANING A BIT TOO FOGGY
Businesses directed to undertake a deep clean after being linked to a COVID case are not being inspected by health authorities before they reopen, with some venues using techniques that are not recommended as an effective way to eliminate the virus.
The concerning revelations have led state Labor to call for extra safety measures in venues attended by an infected person in a bid to keep the community safe.
NSW Health confirmed it does not conduct inspections of businesses told to disinfect their premises, because COVID cleaning was a "workplace health and safety issue".
SafeWork Australia outlines extensive cleaning guidelines for businesses linked to a confirmed or suspected coronavirus case.
However, the workplace health and safety regulator doesn't conduct inspections before a business reopens.
The regulator said it was the duty of a business to ensure proper cleaning has been done.
Employers are told they "must thoroughly clean and disinfect all areas of suspected contamination" if a confirmed or suspected coronavirus case has been at the workplace.
The guidelines state businesses should conduct a "physical clean" with detergent and a bleach solution.
However, some companies are also adopting hi-tech cleaning methods that are not recommended as an "effective way to eliminate COVID-19".
Ghostbuster-style fogging guns have been used around the world to spray down streets, including in the world's coronavirus capital, Wuhan.
However, NSW Health does not recommend the expensive practice, saying "fogging is unnecessary".
Originally published as Police in COVID hunt for phantom travellers