Hundreds of Australian Defence Force personnel brought in to help Victoria defeat COVID-19 are spending days on end stuck inside a flash Melbourne hotel – amid claims they are not being properly used.
Daily Mail Australia can reveal more than 200 members of the Australian military are holed-up at the Sofitel hotel at the top end of Collins Street – in an area of Melbourne’s CBD formerly known as the ‘Paris end’.
The ADF was brought in to help with testing, checkpoint control, isolation, compliance, logistics, data and contact tracing.
But there is growing frustration in ADF ranks that they have not been given enough to do and are simply being kept in lockdown 23-hours a day alongside millions of other Victorians.
An off-duty Navy seaman is seen milling about outside the Sofitel hotel in Melbourne on Wednesday
An ADF member walks past shops outside the Sofitel hotel in Melbourne on Wednesday
The Sofitel sits at the ‘Paris end’ of Melbourne on Collins Street. It has become a prison for ADF personnel
It is understood about 1470 ADF personnel remain in Victoria.
Premier Daniel Andrews continues to be slammed for failing to utilise the ADF as security for his bungled hotel quarantine program, and this week came under fire from the prime minister for shortcomings with the state’s contact tracing.
While Australian Army soldiers were seen patrolling the streets of Melbourne as Victoria’s second wave took hold last month, on Wednesday they were nowhere to be seen.
The soldiers had been deployed to Melbourne’s plagued COVID quarantine hotels in mid-July, but by then the damage had already been done and the virus was loose.
On Wednesday, Navy personnel were seen milling about the Sofitel hotel having a cigarette before having to return to isolation.
The burly men refused to speak to Daily Mail Australia when approached.
But other military personnel have told Daily Mail Australia some stationed at the hotel have gone as long as 10 days without performing a single shift.
Others have suggested the work rate is along the lines of one day on, four days off.
A newsagent working at the deserted shopping complex at the bottom of the Sofitel told Daily Mail Australia his ADF business traffic had all but disintegrated.
‘They’re not allowed out anymore,’ he said. ‘I hardly seen them.’
An ADF member appears to conduct a meeting at the Sofitel hotel in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Soldiers were seen on the streets of Melbourne early last month. They have been replaced by NAVY in recent weeks
Treasury Gardens on Spring Street offers some respite for cooped up ADF personnel in Melbourne
A person exercises in the gardens across the road from the Sofitel hotel in Melbourne on Wednesday
When not performing their duties, the frustrated military forces spend their time cooped up inside the hotel and are only allowed outside for an hour a day to exercise.
Across the road, right next to Victorian Parliament on Spring Street, the Treasury Gardens has become a military exercise yard.
‘It’s frustrating, but it’s coming from way above us,’ an insider told Daily Mail Australia.
‘We’re working, but yeah, we could be doing a lot more. At least we get outside to do some exercise.’
Another source told Daily Mail Australia some personnel had worked four shifts over the past four weeks.
‘I cannot understand why they’re there other than a PR exercise,’ she said. ‘No-one even knows who is in control.’
In addition to the mental health issues faced by those trapped within the hotel, some have complained they have not been given adequate access to food.
‘They’re hungry. They don’t get enough to eat. They weren’t even allowed to go to food court downstairs,’ the source said.
An Army vehicle is seen driving past Parliament House in Melbourne on Wednesday
ADF personnel bearing Navy insignia were seen having a smoke break outside the Sofitel hotel on Wednesday
The issue was only resolved when military police began taking bulk orders from soldiers and providing room service.
‘The isolation is just insane,’ the source said. ‘And those of them who came from interstate when they go home have to isolate again for another two weeks. It’s a farce and we’re paying for it. ‘
It is understood out of the 250-odd military personnel are on deck at the Sofitel, but only about 40 people go out to work each day.
Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services refused to respond to Daily Mail Australia’s questions about the use of ADF personnel in Melbourne.
‘Your enquiry is best directed to the Defence Force,’ it stated.
The ADF has been contacted for comment.
Inside the Sofitel hotel where ADF personnel have been staying over the past month
Hotel prison: ADF personnel have spent up to 23 hours a day cooped up in their rooms while waiting orders to go to work
The Sofitel was once a nice place to visit as long as you could go outside and enjoy the sights of Melbourne. Now it holds isolated and bored ADF personnel
On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison lashed out at the Andrews Government over its handling of contact tracing in Victoria – a task that could be undertaken by ADF personnel.
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.
Victoria has seen a spike in coronavirus cases for the second day in a row, with 76 new infections recorded.
Eleven deaths were also recorded overnight with nine linked to aged-care.
It comes after 41 cases were diagnosed on Monday, followed by 55 on Tuesday.
The state has now recorded 19,688 cases in total and 694 deaths.