Call centre staff accustomed to angering Victorians with dinner-time calls selling discount holiday packages or insurance are now leading the charge to set them free.
Daily Mail Australia can reveal call centre companies Stellar, Helloworld and Health Direct have been contracted by the Victorian government to help trace active cases of COVID-19.
The revelations come amid a firestorm of criticism aimed at Premier Daniel Andrews’ efforts to stem the virus, which threatens to ruin the economy and livelihoods of Victorians.
Epworth HealthCare staff have turned disease detectives as part of Victoria’s fight to contain the spread of COVID-19
Former call centre workers in the travel industry have been employed to track down active carriers of COVID-19 in Victoria
Call centre staff have led Victoria’s bungled charge against contact tracing in Victoria
Who Are Victoria’s Contact Tracers?
Stellar boats it is a ‘leading customer experience organisation’, operating across Australia, Asia, North America and Africa.
Stellar claims to be among ‘the most awarded outsources in the industry’.
Stellar is a member of the Diversity Council of Australia and proudly brags 52 percent of its managers are female.
Stellar has been hired for $9 million to provide more operators, with both contracts running from July to January.
Helloworld is a leading Australian based travel company with Australia’s largest network of 2,000 independent franchised travel agents, it states.
Call centre staff were employed by the Victorian government after the travel sector was destroyed by COVID-19 lockdown.
Helloworld won a contract worth $7.6 million to provide contact tracing workers.
Health Direct claims to be the leading provider of ‘telehealth’ in Australia.
It provides ‘trusted’ health services that are ‘easily accessible via multiple channels — helplines, video call solutions, websites, service finders, mobile applications and social media networks’.
It has partnered with the governments of Australia for more than 14 years to deliver ‘pioneering solutions to both local and national health challenges’.
Health Direct has a not-for-profit, government-owned business model
On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison lashed out at the Andrews Government, urging it to embrace the ‘gold standard’ approach New South Wales had adopted to lift its performance against the pandemic.
More than 60 Navy and Army personnel have been working with the NSW Health Contact Tracing team, made-up mostly of health and other government department workers, as part of its contact tracing team.
The first rotation of 52 ADF personnel in NSW made almost 6000 calls within a couple of days in March.
Instead, Victoria outsourced most of its contact tracing to young, inexperienced call centre staff.
On Tuesday, Victoria recorded another 55 cases of coronavirus, along with eight deaths – up from 41 cases a day earlier.
‘New South Wales has a stronger capability when it comes to tracing,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘And we want to provide support — as we already have — to the Victorian government through the ADF.’
Mr Andrews was widely condemned after he refused Australian Defence Force support to help with the state’s hotel quarantine program when the pandemic was relatively new to Australia.
The refusal led to a second wave of the virus breaking free from the hotels and the implementation of new, crippling Stage Four lockdown restrictions.
Under the premier’s decree on Sunday, Melbourne will only move to a second, more relaxed lockdown, from September 28 if the city reaches an average daily case rate of 30-50 coronavirus cases over the previous 14 days.
Melbourne can only move forward from October 26 if the state records an average of fewer than five new daily cases and five ‘mystery cases’ with unknown community transmission, on average over a two-week period.
Residents will only be granted further relief on November 23 if there are no new cases across the state for two weeks.
The premier warned a ‘COVID normal’ existence would only happen if there were no new cases for 28 days, no active cases and ‘no outbreaks of concern’ in other states and territories.
Contact tracing in Victoria has been slammed by the prime minister amid Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ threats to lock down his people for months to come
Health Direct employees are helping trace active COVID carriers across Victoria
The plan, which is considered the harshest lockdown on earth, revolves heavily around Victoria’s ability to trace active cases of the virus.
Mr Morrison said he hoped Victoria’s lockdown extension could be avoided by better contact tracing.
A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson defended its contact tracing efforts, telling Daily Mail Australia it had a 2600-strong ‘public health team’ working on it.
‘Our(team) initiates contact with every single positive case within 24 hours and close contacts are followed up as soon as possible, either via phone calls or text messages,’ it said in a statement.
Up to 1700 call staff make up the department’s ‘Case, Contact and Outbreak Management team’, who work alongside 900 team members in roles such as epidemiologists, public health clinicians, logistics, phone operators and data entry staff, it stated.
In the past month, DHHS has moved to an electronic system, which allows faster import of interview information from contractors and interstate staff to the department’s systems.
It has also established six regional COVID-19 case contact and outbreak teams.
A man gestures from a window inside a unit at the public housing tower along Racecourse Road in Melbourne in July. Victorians fear they will never be released under plans by their premier Daniel Andrews
Helloworld staff hot by the COVID disaster have been moved into Victoria’s contact tracing team
The coronavirus contact tracing team includes epidemiologists, clinicians and phone operators
Mr Morrison said if NSW adopted a similar approach to Victoria, Sydney would be locked down like Melbourne.
‘What I can’t help but be struck by is that, under the thresholds that have been set in (Victoria’s) plan, Sydney would be under curfew now. Sydney doesn’t need to be under curfew now. They have a tracing capability that can deal with outbreaks.,’ he said.
He was supported on Tuesday by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, who claimed Victoria’s second wave could largely have been avoided if Victoria’s contact tracing system had been better.
‘NSW has had the equivalent of about six hotel quarantine breaches,’ he said.
‘Victoria and NSW … both had outbreaks. NSW was able to contain theirs.’
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton defended Victoria’s contact tracing efforts despite criticism from the Commonwealth.
‘We’re hitting the straps with the contact tracing metrics and performance metrics that we’re looking at each and every day,’ Professor Sutton said.
‘We’re contacting all of those cases for interview every day within the first 24 hours.’