Secret virus report withheld from public


A secret report by virus detectives into the source of the COVID-19 outbreak that has forced Melbourne into lockdown is being kept under wraps by the Victorian Government.

The renowned Doherty Institute, the medical research facility that convinced Prime Minister Scott Morrison to shut down the economy earlier this year to avoid a European-style outbreak, has revealed it cannot release new genomic sequencing because of a public inquiry into the bungled hotel quarantine mess.

But the decision has sparked fury in Victoria, because the taxpayer-funded research explaining how the outbreak escaped hotel quarantine and forced its way into multiple public housing blocks in Victoria is critical to understanding why millions of Melburnians are now under lockdown.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has spent weeks batting away questions over whether taxpayer-funded private security guards involved with the hotel quarantine program sparked the outbreak when they had sex with travellers returning from overseas they were paid to lock up on the grounds that the inquiry will investigate the matter.

Now, the state's chief medical officer Brett Sutton has confirmed the genomic sequencing conducted by the highly regarded medical research facility cannot be released, claiming it's a decision for the Doherty Institute.

"It's not my genome sequencing data, it belongs to Peter Doherty Institute,'' he said.

"It's not my call to keep it under wraps. I don't have an opinion on it. I'm very happy to speak about it if I'm asked about it in the judicial inquiry.

"I'm not going to comment on it when it will be investigated very shortly.

"It will absolutely be subject to the judicial inquiry very shortly."

But the Doherty Institute confirmed to that as a result of the research being included in the terms of reference for the hotel quarantine inquiry, it cannot release the raw data.

It's not clear whether the complete data will be released during the inquiry or even after it reports in September.

"The latest data is subject to the judicial inquiry and it's not appropriate to discuss publicly until it's gone through that process,'' a spokeswoman said.



Mr Andrews announced the Judicial Inquiry Into Hotel Quarantine Program on 2 July.

It will also examine unconfirmed reports that returning travellers had sex with the private security guards who were supposed to be keeping them locked up.

Public hearings will commence next week, but no witnesses will be called at the July 20 hearing where Jennifer Coate, who is leading the inquiry, and counsel assisting, Tony Neal QC, will both make short opening statements.

Public hearings are expected to be held in August.

A man runs through the Carlton Gardens in Melbourne yesterday. Picture: Robert Cianflone
A man runs through the Carlton Gardens in Melbourne yesterday. Picture: Robert Cianflone

In a press release announcing the inquiry this month, the Victorian Government noted: "The Chief Health Officer has advised the Government that a number of cases of coronavirus in the community have been linked through genomic sequencing to an infection control breach in the hotel quarantine program."

Victorian Opposition leader Michael O'Brien urged the Andrews Government to be "honest with Victorians and stop covering up the problems and mismanagement around hotel quarantine."

"The Premier and his ministers are refusing to answer questions and continue to hide behind an inquiry rather than being upfront,'' he said.

"The millions of Victorians locked up through no fault of their own, need the Premier to stop dodging questions and start giving answers."

A final report is due by September 25.

Originally published as Secret virus report withheld from public