A quarantine bungle at Sydney Airport on the weekend saw two passengers board a domestic flight after coming in from Germany. The pair should have gone straight into a 14-day quarantine. Instead, miscommunication saw them allowed to board a Virgin Australia service to Melbourne. However, an alert guard at Melbourne Airport realized something was amiss and notified authorities.
New South Wales Police “own” their mistake
Two dual German-Australian nationals, a 53-year woman and her 15-year-old son arrived in Sydney on Saturday. They had come in from Germany via Tokyo on an All Nippon Airways flight. The two travelers had through boarding passes to Melbourne in their possession.
Normally, international arrivals are herded straight onto a bus and taken to downtown hotels to sit out their 14-day quarantine.
New South Wales Police told Simple Flying that the two travelers had been directed to board the bus when they said they were continuing onto Melbourne.
A New South Wales Police Officer checked the story out and allowed the pair to continue traveling. They were even given a lift across to the domestic terminals for their Virgin Australia flight.
But it turns out the Police Officer involved erred in thinking the travelers had an exemption. On Sunday, New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner Jeff Loy blamed language barriers and miscommunication for the error.
“The police officer has admitted his mistake,” said Deputy Commissioner Loy.
“He should have clarified. He accepts that. We’ll own the mistake, and we’ll move forward.”
An alert security guard in Melbourne raises the alarm
Meanwhile, the woman and her son boarded Virgin Australia flight VA838 (operated by VH-YFX) at midday on Saturday for the flight to Melbourne. There were 176 passengers and six crew on the flight. After an extended internal border closure, there is finally freedom of movement between Sydney and Melbourne. Melbourne has just come out of several months of lockdown. The city has recorded 38 days without a COVID-19 case and is keen to keep that winning streak going.
The two travelers are not accused of misleading authorities. Rather, there appears to be a genuine language barrier and a miscommunication issue.
“Police practices and systems at the airport have also been reviewed and strengthened as a result of this incident,” says New South Wales Police.
Having flown to Melbourne, an alert private security guard at that airport noticed the pair looking “lost” near a public transport stand. When the guard, Claudio Cominotto, realized what had happened, he called it in.
“Just don’t send them anywhere. Hold them for a minute. I need to confirm what’s going on.’ I thought if they haven’t quarantined, then this is a big problem,” was the response from his boss quoted in The Age newspaper last night.
It turns out the two travelers were expecting to go into quarantine in Melbourne and wondering why they were allowed to roam free.
They were very compliant, very friendly, wearing masks with the correct PPE,” said Peter Mikha, a security duty officer at Melbourne Airport on Saturday.
“They let us know everything we wanted. There was no question. They did not want to avoid it. They were looking for quarantine.”
Passengers in self-quarantine, Virgin Australia aircraft pulled from service
Claudio Cominotto is getting a lot of praise for his quick thinking. New South Wales Police – not so much. While the mother and son duo have since tested negative for COVID-19 and are holed up in quarantine in a Melbourne hotel, the incident potentially exposed the passengers and crew on the Virgin Australia flight to COVID-19.
Victoria’s Department of Health asked the passengers and crew on the flight to immediately go into self-quarantine. In a media statement, a blameless Virgin Australia said;
“We have passed on the passenger manifest to the relevant health authorities to assist them in contacting the passengers on the flight, and we have been in contact with the crew operating the flight.
“Upon being informed these guests had traveled on our aircraft without entering hotel quarantine, we removed the aircraft from service to perform a deep clean, as a precautionary measure.”
Meanwhile, with Melbourne now accepting some limited inbound international passengers, there’s the potential for more security bungles and miscommunication issues. That will keep people like Claudio Cominotto on the hop.