Hundreds of people who travelled from Sydney to Victoria since Sunday have been told by Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services that they are close contacts of a confirmed coronavirus case and must quarantine, even though many have already returned negative test results.
Some recipients have called the department's hotline and been told to disregard the text's instruction, while others have been advised to continue quarantining because it could not be determined whether an error had occurred.
Philippa and Todd Gyle and their child, whose holiday plans have been mired in confusion.
Wednesday morning's text message bungle has led to confusion around Christmas plans and created extra time in self-isolation for families who are now awaiting clear communication from the authority. The department has been contacted for comment.
Sydney residents Philippa Gyles, her husband Todd and 14-month-old child drove 14 hours and through 100 kilometres of dirt track to make it to Adelaide for Christmas and to visit Mr Gyles' father in hospital before borders closed.
After being mistakenly turned away at the NSW-South Australia border on Sunday night, they entered South Australia on Monday and went straight to get a COVID-19 test.
Both received negative results from the South Australian health authorities via text on Tuesday night. "We thought, 'Great, we finally can start our holiday,' " Ms Gyles said.
Police stop motorists travelling from NSW at a checkpoint in Wodonga on the Victorian side of the border with NSW.Credit:Justin McManus
But on Wednesday morning both received a second text. This time it was from Victoria's DHHS, telling them they were close contacts of a confirmed coronavirus case, must immediately quarantine for 14 days and get tested on day 11.
The family's only interaction with Victorian authorities had come when they needed to spend a night in Mildura after being turned away at the South Australian border.
The text that hundreds of people received from the DHHS.
"We can’t figure out how on earth we’ve been exposed. We haven’t been in the same place together aside from our own home in more than two weeks," Ms Gyles said.
The DHHS did not have any answers for her when she called. She was told the department could not be sure whether the information provided to the couple was correct, and it was suggested about 400 others had received similar texts.
"We have to stay around and wait to see if we’ve been sent a text in error, and have lost yet another day getting messed around by incorrect communications by state governments," Ms Gyles said.
"We’re trying to do the right thing. We’ve had the most mammoth journey through the outback. Now we think we’re finally free, and the Victorian government is saying to isolate. At the moment, for us, Christmas is off again. It’s getting down to a joke, the lack of clarity and errors over something that should be relatively straightforward by now," she said.
Hours later, they received a call saying their Victorian border passes had triggered the text because their local government area had been classified as an "amber zone". They were not a close contact as initially suggested.
Another Sydney resident received the text about 8am on Wednesday, after arriving in Victoria late on Sunday night before the shutdown.
"When I finally got through to the Victorian COVID helpline, I was told the message was sent out to 'a number of people' by mistake and to disregard the information on the message," she said.
"The woman on the phone could not give me any more information but it was clear that there had been some technical hitch and they had been receiving numerous calls."
Alan Sunderland received the text message while still in NSW. He had applied for a permit to travel to Victoria but did not end up going.
"I got this message regardless and spent a long time on the phone to DHHS answering lots of questions to confirm I don't need to quarantine. No one told me it had been sent in error," he said.
Finn Sleigh and his father arrived in Melbourne from Sydney before the border closed on Sunday.
"When we got to Melbourne we got tested straight away and both got negative results," he said.
"However, this morning we got a text telling us we were close contacts of a COVID case. When we spoke to the Victorian department of health they weren't able to explain why."
The text message told people they had been "assessed by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services as a close contact of a person who has been diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19)" and that they must quarantine for 14 days.
It is not the first time DHHS text messages have caused confusion. News Corp reported that the DHHS mistakenly told people in self-isolation they could leave quarantine early due to a data entry error in July.
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