NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant has defended contact tracing that led to the Health Minister being assessed as a COVID-19 informal contact amid claims he was exposed to an infected colleague while dining.
A parliamentary inquiry on Friday examined Health Secretary Brad Hazzard’s COVID-19 classification after a possible exposure on June 22, 2021 at the National Party dinner.
Mr Hazzard has been accused of receiving preferential treatment after avoiding mandatory isolation, despite alleged contact with Nationals MP Adam Marshall at the event. Mr. Marshall later became COVID positive.
When questioned by One Nation MP Mark Latham, (pictured) Dr Kerry Chant told the inquiry that the investigation into virus exposure at the House of Parliament was ‘very thorough’
The inquiry was told of a ‘central contradiction’ between Mr Hazzard’s and Mr Marshall’s versions of whether they interacted.
Mr. Hazzard, the probe was told, informed contact tracers that there was no contact, while Mr. Marshall claims in a statement that the men spoke to each other at close range.
When questioned by One Nation MP Mark Latham, Dr Chant told the inquiry that the investigation into virus exposure at the House of Parliament was ‘very thorough’.
“The contact tracing process was robust,” she said.
Dr. Chant said she had confidence in contact tracers involved in the process, who she noted acted quickly to review cases and contacts.
She said “extensive analysis” using interviews and CCTV had been carried out by the team to call.
“This was an example where there was a lot of work,” she said.
Former NSW Health contact tracer Jennie Musto said her assessment of Mr Hazzard was that he had no direct contact with Mr Marshall ‘and therefore it was not considered a close contact’.
“Doesn’t it appear that Mr. Hazzard lied?” Mr. Latham asked Mrs. Musto.
Dr. Chant (pictured) said she had confidence in contact tracers involved in the process, who she noted acted quickly to review cases and contacts
“I don’t think that’s the case,” Mrs. Musto replied.
She refused to give Mr Hazzard any special treatment as he was the health minister, saying ‘every person we contact is treated in exactly the same way’.
Earlier, Mr. Latham Pharmacy Guild of Australia NSW branch president David Heffernan, who also attended the event, on his written contribution to the study.
In the submission, Mr. Heffernan stated that he had no recollection of speaking directly to Mr. Hazzard and Mr. Marshall.
“Mr. Heffernan, your account of the events … was rather vague and misleading compared to the very clear recollection Adam Marshall has given this committee,” Mr. Latham told the witness.
Mr Latham argued that Mr Hazzard in fact approached the witness Mr Marshall and another member of the pharmacy guild, Richard Walsh, and spoke to them for ‘a few minutes’.
Mr Hazzard (pictured, left with Dr Chant) recently announced his retirement after more than three decades in parliament at the state election in March
“I stand by my statement,” said Mr Heffernan, who dismissed it as misleading and noted that the event was more than a year ago.
Mr Walsh said in his testimony that he had no recollection of being part of a conversation between Mr Hazzard and Mr Marshall.
“I don’t remember a conversation between the four of us,” he said.
He said he couldn’t rule out that Mr. Hazzard and Mr. Marshall were chatting, but said “I honestly can’t confirm either side,” and said everyone was “walking around.”
At budget estimates earlier this year, Mr Latham asked NSW Health staff a series of procedural questions about the decision, which led to the current inquiry.
The Minister of Health has been contacted for comment.
Hazzard recently announced that he would retire in the state elections in March after more than three decades in parliament.