‘I hold my hand up’ says Weimar over errors on DHHS exposure site list

Victoria’s testing tsar has apologised for mistakes and corrections that have cropped up on the official list of Victoria’s coronavirus exposure sites.

COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar also defended the state’s contact tracers after several businesses reported only discovering they were exposure sites through the media – while others found out well before the government let the public know.

COVID reponse commander Jeroen Weimar.Credit:Paul Jeffers

The Health Department exposure site list has changed rapidly over the last few days, with new sites rapidly added and then sometimes removed – sometimes erroneously. In one case, a Woolworths Shopping Centre was initially listed, before the outbreak site was moved over to a Coles.

The list was quietly changed on Monday to show a COVID-positive person dined at The Guilty Moose Cafe at Albert Park on December 21, nine days earlier than December 30 which was the original date listed by the department for at least two days.

Patrons at the Lion Hotel in La Trobe Street were initially told to isolate only until they tested negative, before that advice was upgraded to 14 days of quarantine.

“In an operation of this scale, moving at this velocity, where we’re making changes and adjustments not even hour by hour but minute by minute… I think if you look at the website today, we’re highlighting much more now, a clearer way of saying here is emerging breaking news, it highlights more where the changes are coming in,” Mr Weimar said on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re just trying to give as much information as we have. If we get something wrong now and again, I will be the first one to hold my hand up.”

“If I look at the progress we have made on the outbreak in the last five or six days… We are in a strong, consistent pattern. I think we have a good rhythm of working our way through the close contacts and the secondary contacts.”

Addressing the failure to let businesses know they were exposure sites, Mr Weimar said it was not always possible for contact tracers to get in touch with businesses before they were listed.

“We make a conscious effort to contact businesses where we can," he said.

"But we don’t hold back information until we get hold of the business. It’s not always entirely obvious who you should contact. We don’t have time to burn to let the public know what’s going on.”

In other cases, Mr Weimar said members of the public who tested positive had been warning friends and employers before the state’s contact tracers reached them.

“From my point of view, that’s not a problem. If we have people turning positive who are reaching out, off their own bat, to their employer or friends … that’s a really positive development.

"We will target and prioritise, from our point of view, what are the urgent venues to get to, and we will work our way through that list.”

But despite the problems with the exposure site lists and delays to contact tracing, experts have said Victoria's contact tracing is now far better than it was during the state's second wave.

“From what we know, I think we’re doing really well,” said Professor Michael Toole, an epidemiologist at the Burnet Institute.

"The contact tracing, testing and isolating system is a lot better than it was six months ago.”

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