Security guards napped in corridors and smoked in stairwells, inquiry told

Security guards smoked in stairwells and took hotel towels to use as pillows while napping in corridors while working in hotel quarantine, a Crown manager has told an inquiry.

The heads of the hotels that housed quarantined returned travellers in Melbourne on Friday started to give evidence to Victoria's inquiry into the program.

Quarantined travellers detained in Crown Promenade in April.Credit:Justin McManus

Crown Hotels executive general manager Shaun D'Cruz told the inquiry his staff noticed towels were being taken from the hotel staff area where linen was stored.

The guards used the towels to take naps in the corridors, the inquiry heard.

Guards were not permitted in the hotel staff area for infection control reasons.

"That wasn't something they were supposed to do at all," Mr D'Cruz said.

Crown executive general manager Shaun D’Cruz.

Mr D'Cruz said there was also evidence the guards had been smoking in the stairwells of the hotel.

He reported these incidents to the "government security department" and it was "managed appropriately," he said.

Crowne Plaza and Crown Promenade were both used for hotel quarantine.

The conduct of security guards who worked in hotel quarantine is under scrutiny in the inquiry because COVID-19 was spread from returned travellers to guards and other staff working at the hotels.

Outbreaks at the Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Plaza led to Victoria's deadly second wave of COVID-19, with its outbreaks behind 99 per cent of current cases, the inquiry heard.

Four Points by Sheraton general manager Stephen Ferrigno said he was worried about the diligence of guards at his hotel.

"They appeared to spend a lot of time watching on their telephone, having conversations on their mobile, or generally in a fairly passive mode, sitting down for hours at a time," he said.

Four Points by Sheraton general manager Stephen Ferrigno before the inquiry on Friday.

He said as the hotel didn't hire the guards, their "ability to influence their behaviour was really restricted to communicating these concerns at briefings."

The inquiry heard quarantine detainees were distressed, with smokers not allowed to have a cigarette in their rooms and hotel staff scrambling to fulfill dietary requirements for those with religious and medical needs.

Travelodge general manager Ram Mandyam said their Docklands hotel, which did not have a large kitchen, had to provide close to 1,000 meals a day to guests with more than 100 different dietary requirements.

He said the first arrivals off a flight from Chile on April 10 had not been fed for hours.

"I believe there was anxiety to a certain extent that they were going to be detained for 14 days against their will … that probably led to a fair amount of emotional outbursts," Mr Mandyam said.

The hotels did not allow smoking in the rooms, because it would set off fire alarms, which added to guests' frustrations.

In some cases, guests were abusive to hotel staff.

"It was the hotel team members that fielded those calls to a large extent on day one, over the course of two weeks it did not stop, quite honestly," Mr Mandyam said.

Four Points by Sheraton general manager Stephen Ferrigno said the hotel received little information about dietary requirements, including religious requirements and allergies, leading up to guests arriving.

"There were challenges with communication," he said.

All three hotel managers said they were unsure which government department was in charge.

"We needed a better point of contract, who was responsible for this program? The lack of clarity, in general, is probably what was missing on my end," Mr Mandyam said.

Mr Ferrigno said he was "comforted" with the level of organisation that came into the program when the departments of justice and corrections were put in of the program from July 1.

"There was an obvious chain of command process … it gave me a great sense of satisfaction that we would put our hand up again and continue to support our program and continue to support our community," Mr Ferrigno said.

Earlier, the Department of Health and Human Services had been the lead agency with responsibilities shared with the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.

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