Text ‘error’ told close contacts to leave quarantine early

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Authorities have sent Victorians in self-quarantine text messages mistakenly saying they were free to leave ­isolation before their 14-day period ended.

The Department of Health and Human Services was unaware on Sunday night of how many people had received the wrong advice as a result of a “data entry error”.

The messages, sent on Sunday morning, told some Victorians in strict two-week isolation they were “no longer in quarantine”, several days ahead of their actual end date.

It included one Melbourne woman who was in self-­quarantine with her daughter after her partner tested positive to coronavirus only on Wednesday.

The woman, who did not want to be identified, said she had been repeatedly contacted by DHHS workers via phone calls, text messages and emails during their isolation period, reminding her to adhere to the strict quarantine rules.

One such email came on Sunday morning, but just 20 minutes later she received a text saying unless she was awaiting test results or had been re-exposed, she was no longer in quarantine.

“Straight away I thought, this is a mistake, something has gone wrong here,” she said.

Her daughter did not receive the misfired text.

The woman called the DHHS hotline and was told some messages had been sent in error and to ignore the latest message and instead follow the original advice to stay home.

A DHHS spokesman apologised for the error.

“It is as simple as a data entry error that was totally ­inadvertent,” the spokesman said. “We’re sending out multiple messages every day to ­different groups who are in different stages of quarantine.

“We’re talking about thousands of messages a day.”

Asked if they would be issuing new texts to clarify the advice, the spokesman said first they would have to identify the affected group.

“That’s a mammoth task,” the spokesman said, adding if people were concerned they had received an advice messages in error they should contact DHHS.

A government spokeswoman said on Sunday night that Victoria’s contact tracing team sent about 7000 message each day to COVID-19 positive cases and their close contacts.

“The Department of Health and Human Services has advised this was an inadvertent data entry error,” she said.

Close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases must quarantine at home for 14 days after their last contact with the infected person.

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