Brett Sutton, Daniel Andrews evidence released by COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry

Brett Sutton’s anger at how Victoria’s hotel quarantine program was set up without his input has been laid bare in an email released by the inquiry into the scheme.

The state’s Chief Health Officer said it was “astounding” that he and his deputy, Annaliese van Diemen, were excluded from the planning process for the scheme, known as Operation Soteria, despite having legal responsibility for it.

The tensions are revealed in an April 13 email from Professor Sutton to Euan Wallace, the CEO of Safer Care Victoria, which is responsible for patient and hospital safety.

In it, Professor Sutton said Operation Soteria was set up and put in place through Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) “without even getting my approval or even input”.

“It was seen as an almost wholly logistic exercise and had EM [Emergency Management Victoria] governance without an understanding of where accountability sat, or perhaps should sit.”

He said because hotel quarantine was a policy recommendation from National Cabinet, state chief health officers needed to issue directions for its implementation — which made them legally accountable for it.

“In this case Annaliese wrote the direction —so was effectively the ‘maker’ of the entire scheme and has responsibility in law for it,” he wrote.

A “disconnect” with EMV colleagues meant they “effectively excluded those with significant accountability”, he wrote.

In previous evidence, Professor Sutton told the inquiry he believed he should have been appointed to the role of ‘state controller’, so he had better oversight of pandemic responses for which he bore some responsibility.

Dozens of documents released by inquiry

The COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry has been looking into the beleaguered scheme after its failures were blamed for Victoria’s devastating second wave of the virus.

On Friday afternoon, it released dozens of documents, including affidavits from Professor Sutton and Premier Daniel Andrews, phone records from top staffers at the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Mr Andrews’s office, and emails from various departments.

The inquiry requested the additional material to try and determine who was involved in the decision to engage private security at the quarantine hotels and at what point Professor Sutton knew private security guards were being used — matters that weren’t resolved by the inquiry’s last hearing in September.

Professor Sutton has said he did not know private security was being used in the scheme until he read about it in the media — even though he was copied into an email about that plan.

Premier Daniel Andrews, in his affidavit, also maintained he played no role in determining that private security would be used in the program, and did not know who had.

Daniel Andrews provided additional evidence to the inquiry after his appearance.(AAP: Erik Anderson)

However, the Premier shed some light on why he mentioned “private security” at a press conference he held on the afternoon of March 27, despite later saying no decision had been made to use private security by that time.

Mr Andrews said while he had no memory of it, it was likely he was briefed before the press conference by his chief-of-staff Lissie Ratcliff, and “probably” his press secretary Stephanie Anderson and media director Adam Sims.

Mr Andrews said they may have been briefed by a member of his private office, whose name had been redacted.

“I am informed that it is possible that those who briefed me obtained information from [name redacted] for the purposes of the briefing, but I am informed that [name redacted] was not present when I was briefed.”

Text messages between Premier, chief-of-staff released

At the press conference, Mr Andrews told the media that “police, private security, all of our health team will be able to monitor compliance in a much easier way” at the hotels.

However, when he gave verbal evidence to the inquiry, Mr Andrews said he was not sure why he had mentioned private security at the press conference, or how he had learned they would be used.

Jennifer Coate sits behind a bend with the words
Jennifer Coate’s final report is due to be handed down by December 21.  (AAP: James Ross)

Mr Andrews said for the sake of “completeness” he would also provide text messages between him and his chief-of-staff about the hotel arrangements that he was aware of later that evening.

The text messages showed the CEO of Linfox was happy to assist with hotel arrangements, and supermarket La Manna was happy to feed people.

Mr Andrews asked Ms Ratcliff: “how are we going on hotels and midnight tomorrow. Do we have many flights tomorrow? Call if you need to”.

Ms Ratcliff responded that she would have updates on the number of rooms: “we’re aiming for more than 5,000 — transportation, guidelines for leaving rooms, protection for workers, number of expected arrivals and flights for Sunday”.

The reply from Ms Ratcliff to Mr Andrews also said “it’ll only apply to flights landing after midnight so anyone coming in during the day tomorrow won’t be caught up.

“Will get you an update as soon as it comes through.”

Inquiry chair Jennifer Coate is due to hand down her findings by December 21.

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Victorian brewery refuses Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton service, citing COVID-19 rules

A Victorian brewery has said it was twice forced to turn away Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton from the premises because of COVID-19 restrictions, a week after the so-called “ring of steel” was lifted.

It appeared all of Melbourne — including Professor Sutton — took advantage of the new freedom to travel in the state by visiting the town of Bright, locals said.

And, soon, the venues ran out of space.

In Victoria there are restrictions on the number of diners that can be seated in indoor and outdoor spaces.

Hospitality businesses are restricted to a maximum of 40 customers per venue indoors, subject to density requirements of one person per four square metres, and a cap of 70 customers seated outdoors with a density requirement of one person per two square metres.

In a social media post that went viral, the Bright Brewery told its followers it had to turn away Professor Sutton — twice — because it had reached its capacity.

“Mr Sutton was a great sport when our staff explained that under his own COVID restrictions, we unfortunately did not have the space to seat him,” the post said.

“We’re sorry you couldn’t, in Premier Dan Andrews’ words, ‘Get On The Beers’ with us, Brett — but we hope to see you again once restrictions ease.”

The Department of Health and Human Services Victoria confirmed to the ABC that the famed professor was turned away twice as the venue had reached its capacity under restrictions still in place.

Book ahead to avoid disappointment

The Bright Brewery, which usually has room for 500 people, said it had to turn away numerous customers under the state’s strict COVID-19 restrictions.

Bright has been inundated with visitors since the “ring of steel” was lifted.(Contributed: Alpine Valley Getaways)

The brewery’s marketing manager Laura Gray told the ABC she was shocked by how many people had visited the tiny town in the past week, and noted the majority were not local.

Ms Gray said she expected the busy period to continue right up to Christmas.

“I think the vast majority of people were definitely up for the weekend or night, and a huge majority of people were from Melbourne,” she said.

Tough year for north-east Victorian town

It follows a dreadful year financially for the town, which was severely impacted by the summer bushfires and then the COVID-19 lockdown.

Ms Gray said the visit from Professor Sutton had been “unbelievable” and she hoped it would encourage more people to visit the town, and support the wider area.

“It’s been really up and down, and it was pretty devastating for the business to be closed for so long,” she said.

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Gerard Sutton, timekeeping incident, Game II referee

Despite calls for Gerard Sutton to be sacked, the referee will officiate his 18th consecutive State of Origin match on Wednesday.

Sutton came under fire after Game I at Adelaide Oval, where Queensland emerged as shock 18-14 victors.

Confused fans blasted the referee for blowing his whistle at full-time while the televised broadcast’s clock suggested there were a few seconds left to play.

Sutton also ended the blockbuster match moments before the siren sounded at the venue.

With the New South Wales Blues threatening to score a late try, the seemingly early finish potentially robbed Brad Fittler’s side of a late equaliser.

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However, an NRL spokesman revealed Sutton was provided an official countdown from the match-day coach in his ear.

“The referee gets a 10-second countdown from the match-day coach in their ear at the end of every half, based off the timekeeper,” an NRL spokesman told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“The referee calls full-time off that, not the siren or the scoreboard timer.”

READ MORE: Blues ruthlessly swing selection axe

But The Daily Telegraph’s Paul Kent was not impressed with how Sutton handled the game’s final moments, and called for him to be axed.

“Gerard Sutton needs to lose the game for the next game,” Kent said on Fox League.

“He shouldn’t control Origin again after that. He totally lost it there.

“Kaufusi was just belligerent and refused to go off the field and pretended he didn’t know what was going on. Sutton should have got him off.

“And then in the last minute NSW actually passed the ball with time on the clock from dummy half. Then the siren rang with the ball in play and he whistled full-time. It doesn’t make sense.”

On Friday, the NRL confirmed Sutton would remain in control for Wednesday’s Game II at ANZ Stadium.

“The Referees Appointments Committee felt the officials deserve the opportunity to take charge of the second match,” NRL Head of Football Graham Annesley said.

“The appointment committee reviewed all aspects of the opening match very closely, and despite some public commentary about timekeeping, the review found the referee was correct.”

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Gerard Sutton ‘shouldn’t control Origin’, final minutes, NSW protest, sin bin, Felise Kaufusi, Cooper Cronk slams, NSW Vs Queensland

Queensland Origin great Cooper Cronk has taken aim at his state’s tactics in the final minute of the first State of Origin match at Adelaide Oval.

The Maroons rallied from being down 10-0 at halftime to romp back to an 18-10 lead, before Josh Addo-Carr cut the deficit to just four points in the final five minutes.

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With NSW pressing hard, the Blues spent the final minute of the game right on Queensland’s line.

From a knock-on which gave the Blues a scrum in the Maroons attacking zone, Queensland were trying to slow down the play.

Jai Arrow went down with cramp, before Queensland gave away a penalty through Josh Papalii after the scrum.

After NSW spread the ball wide, Maroons second rower Felise Kaufusi was penalised and sin binned after flopping on Clint Gutherson for a second penalty.

But the Queenslander played dumb, refusing to leave the field, despite the tackle being made in the corner.

With time running down, NSW put the ball through hands with James Tedesco eventually tackled by five Queenslanders.

As the quintet slowly peeled off, time elapsed and Sutton blew time off, despite the protests of the NSW players as Tedesco was tackled with six seconds remaining.

Although a veteran of 22 games for Queensland, Cronk had a major problem with the decision.

“Just that controversial little finish there towards the end,” Cronk said on Fox League’s post-Origin show.

“Kaufusi that was the right call he had to go off. But with a couple of seconds to go there was about five Queensland Maroons basically giving away the penalty waiting for the clock to run down.

“Gerard Sutton should have blown a penalty and given NSW maybe two seconds to set up for one play because that was an infringement that needed to be pulled up.”

Daily Telegraph journalist and NRL 360 host Paul Kent went further, calling for Sutton to be barred from refereeing State of Origin.

“Gerard Sutton needs to lose the game for the next game,” Kent said. “He shouldn’t control Origin again after that. He totally lost it there.

“Kaufusi was just belligerent and refused to go off the field and pretended he didn’t know what was going on. Sutton should have got him off.

“And then in the last minute NSW actually passed the ball with time on the clock from dummy half. Then the siren rang with the ball in play and he whistled full-time. It doesn’t make sense.”

Kent took aim at the Kaufusi sin binning as the tactic was clear after a second successive penalty from the Maroons.

“Watch Kaufusi, he’s been told there, go,” Kent said. “Still doesn’t move, still doesn’t move, he gets slightly out of the picture, he’s only got three metres to walk to the sideline here, still on the field, looks back.

“That should have been changed to an immediate dismissal. He should be penalised by the NRL for that and then to see referee Sutton get it wrong again here. Queensland were great, Queensland deserved to win but it’s just unacceptable at this level of the sport that it’s officiated this way.”

Cronk agreed.

“Right then and there, with five Queenslanders there with one or two seconds on the clock, Sutton should have — and I don’t want to say this because I’m a Queenslander — should have blown the penalty and stopped the game because having five people in a tackle like that hardly ever happens so that tells me it’s intentional, and should have given NSW one shot at glory to see if they can win it,” he said.

Some on social media were also quick to ask the question.

Regardless though, Queensland took the win and the 1-0 lead to Sydney, with NSW now needing to win a series in Queensland for the first time since 1994.

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NRL 2020 Grand Final: Cameron Smith, Referee, Sin bin, Fine, Gerard Sutton, Melbourne Storm, Penrith Panthers

Cameron Smith could come under fire from the NRL for questioning the integrity of referee Gerard Sutton in Sunday’s 26-20 win over Penrith.

The Storm survived a late comeback from the Panthers to hold on for a much-deserved win.

It was far more stressful than Craig Bellamy would have liked though as Penrith put themselves within six points of winning the decider.

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Grand Final

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Victoria records three COVID-19 cases, case average falls, Brett Sutton avoided emails to hotel quarantine inquiry, NSW restrictions to relax for churches, Australia death toll at 905

Businesses covered by the exemptions include restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, function and reception centres, and wineries.

Mr Andrews has flagged that hospitality could reopen even sooner, based on the low numbers of new coronavirus cases the state has recorded this week – but not before Saturday’s AFL grand final in Brisbane.

Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne says they are encouraging hospitality venues to come up with “innovative” ways to operate outdoors.

This could include using car parks in the evening for pop-ups, he said.

“In talking with local government, it has been quite extraordinary the level of interest there is from hospitality venues to not only get up and thrive, but looking at really innovative ways that they want to operate in the future,” he said.

“We are looking, of course, at open space more generally, parks, and the innovation that local government and indeed the hospitality industry has shown really, I think, is going to be an exemplar not only for the state, but also for the nation, in terms of how we seek to move out of these restrictions to a more COVID-normal environment for the hospitality industry going forward.”

He said the government was removing “all hurdles” to support their efforts.

“We understand absolutely that for hospitality to really get back onto its feet, we need to not only provide the infrastructure support that we are providing, but today I can announce that the government has removed all hurdles to allow hospitality to in fact expand its operation outdoors,” he said.

“This planning scheme amendment is for the whole of Victoria. The opportunity is there for any hospitality venue that wishes to expand its existing legal operation to do so without having any hurdle in its way.”

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Referee Gerard Sutton ready for pressure

“There is a human toll when you get something wrong and that’s what Ben has spoken about I think it was really courageous of him to do that, it’s something that sometimes gets lost,” he said. “But we know the expectations around us. We know everyone wants perfection, so do we. Even before that incident before last year, we know the business we are in is decision making.”

Sunday’s game will be Sutton’s sixth grand final and his fourth consecutive decider. Chris Butler and Todd Smith have been appointed as touch judges for the match, with Steve Chiddy elected the bunker official.

Grand final referee Gerard Sutton is targeting ‘perfection’.Credit:Getty

Belinda Sharpe will referee the NRLW grand final, with Liam Kennedy and Drew Oultram named touch judges and Jared Maxwell named as the bunker official.

“There’s probably a bit of extra external noise,” Sutton said. “People want the right outcome for what they see for their team … inevitably there is going to be some criticism and if we’re really troubled about that, then it’s not the role to pursue at the elite level.”

NRL head of football Graham Annesley admitted he was worried about the pressure on NRL referees “every week”.

“Noone wants to see a game impacted by an officiating error … the officials don’t want it, the teams don’t want it, the fans don’t want it, certainly as administrators we don’t want it,” he said.

Gerard Sutton after being announced as the referee for the 2020 NRL grand final on Tuesday.

Gerard Sutton after being announced as the referee for the 2020 NRL grand final on Tuesday.Credit:NRL Photos

“Last year was a situation that doesn’t happen a lot, when you get to major games. But it’s always a possibility. Everyone will be working as hard as they can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Annesley said Sutton’s responsibility as the sole referee of the grand final was “enormous”.

“We’ve had a relatively controversy-free season under a single referee and I hope that continues through until Sunday night,” he said.


Sutton was chosen for the grand final over Ashley Klein, who was allegedly sworn at by Penrith coach Ivan Cleary in the tunnel in round 19 last year. The NRL investigated the incident but Cleary escaped sanction.

Following the grand final, the Australia Rugby League Commission will decide whether the rule changes for 2020 are set to stick around long-term.

Sutton said officials of the game had found the one-ref system, the captain’s challenge and the six-again rule a overall success.

“The changes this year have been about the greater good of the game,” he said. “It’s been some adaptation…but we’ve come to terms with it.”

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Brett Sutton stands by testimony to COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry despite email about private security

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton insists he did not know private security was being used in Melbourne’s quarantine hotels until May, even though he responded to an email about the arrangements more than a month earlier.

Professor Sutton said he “did not register anything” about the use of private security when he responded to the email, which was sent from a departmental colleague to the Department of Home Affairs.

The Age newspaper published an email chain from March 27 — the day hotel quarantine arrangements were being made — in which Professor Sutton was asked a series of questions about Victoria’s program, including “what security arrangements are in place to ensure compliance”.

Professor Sutton forwarded the email to a colleague, who responded to the original questions. On the issue of security arrangements, they wrote:

“Directions will be provided to passengers as the (sic) disembark and will be supported by Victoria Police at the airport. Private security is being contracted to provide security at the hotels with escalation arrangements to VicPol as needed.”

Professor Sutton responded to the email three minutes later, saying: “Thanks so much.”

He later told the COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry that he was not aware private security was in place to guard returned travellers until late May, after there was an outbreak at the Rydges on Swanston hotel.

Asked about the email at a press conference on Saturday, Professor Sutton said: “This particular email was a response to the Commonwealth where they had asked some questions, and it was passed over to someone in the command structure for the hotel quarantine program.

“I saw that they were responding back to the Commonwealth and I thanked them for the responses that they were given, but I clearly did not register that anything was being said about private security.

“Otherwise I would’ve gone to the inquiry and said that I was aware of it.”

Department did not provide emails to inquiry: report

The Age reports the emails were not provided to the hotel quarantine inquiry.

Asked about this, Professor Sutton said a team within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) was tasked with the chore of finding and submitting the relevant emails sought by the inquiry.

Professor Sutton said he had made all of his emails, archived or otherwise, available for the team to go through.

“I know that they’ve gone through a process of looking at all of the emails that fit the terms of reference of the request that was made from the inquiry and provided all of those,” he said.

“I don’t know what the terms of reference are. My role is not to determine what goes or doesn’t go [to the inquiry].”

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Daniel Andrews backs the Chief Health Officer amid questions about hotel quarantine.

Professor Sutton said his officials would provide “anything else that’s requested from the inquiry”, and he would be willing to reappear if asked.

The State Opposition has been calling for Professor Sutton to be recalled and re-examined.

Hotel quarantine inquiry will sit again next week

The hotel inquiry announced on Friday that it would hold an “extraordinary sitting” next week, but did not provide further detail.

“I don’t know what they’re going to be doing,” Premier Daniel Andrews said on Saturday. “It’s an independent process, and it should be independent. It’s not a matter of engaging with me.”

The inquiry’s announcement followed the inquiry’s receipt of additional information, including phone records from some of the key players, including Premier Daniel Andrews and top public servants.

In his testimony to the inquiry in September, Professor Sutton said he could see that the use of a highly casualised workforce of security guards was a problem.

The inquiry also heard Professor Sutton did not have oversight of hotel quarantine program.

Mr Andrews said the Chief Health Officer and his deputies had his confidence.

“And they should enjoy the confidence of all Victorians, because they’re working very hard for all Victorians.”

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Victoria’s coronavirus hotel quarantine inquiry to hold ‘extraordinary sitting’; Opposition wants Brett Sutton recalled

Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry will hold an “extraordinary sitting” next week, in light of several new revelations that emerged after its hearings wrapped up.

The inquiry board has not said why next Tuesday’s sitting will be held, nor whether witnesses will be recalled.

It follows the inquiry’s receipt of phone records, which could help it answer a key outstanding question: who made the decision to use private security, which is now widely seen as a flaw in the hotel quarantine program’s structure.

The inquiry this week sought phone records from Premier Daniel Andrews’s office, and those of top public servants.

The ABC understands Telstra has now provided further phone records to the inquiry, which could shed more light on communication between authorities at the time the decision was made.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien has been calling for the inquiry to bring some witnesses back for further questioning.

They include Chris Eccles, who was the head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet until he resigned earlier this week, and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

Mr Eccles could face further questions after his phone logs, tendered to the inquiry, showed he phoned then-police chief Graham Ashton on March 27, the day the hotel quarantine inquiry was set up.

Earlier, Mr Ashton had been unable to remember who called him that day to tell him private security would be used in the quarantine hotels. But a police timeline showed he was advised of the decision to use private guards between 1:16pm and 1:22pm.

The phone logs revealed Mr Eccles called Mr Ashton at 1:17pm, for just over two minutes.

Mr Eccles resigned after the revelation, but said his phone call to Mr Ashton did not mean the decision to use private security came from him or the Premier’s department.

Chris Eccles told the inquiry he did not remember calling Mr Ashton, but phone logs showed he did.(COVID-19 Hotel Quarantine Inquiry)

Earlier this week, the Opposition Leader said there were still many unanswered questions and Victorians had been given “an avalanche of amnesia, a cavalcade of cover-ups and a litany of lies” by the inquiry’s witnesses.

On Friday afternoon, the inquiry released a statement that said:

Inquiry chair Jennifer Coate is due to hand down her report on Friday, November 6.

Mikakos points to email to Sutton mentioning private security

Mr O’Brien again called for the inquiry to do more work after a story in The Age newspaper on Friday, citing senior departmental sources, questioned evidence provided by Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

Professor Sutton told the inquiry he did not know private security was being used to guard returned travellers at quarantine hotels until late May, after there was an outbreak at the Rydges on Swanston hotel.

But according to evidence from Jenny Mikakos — the state’s former health minister, who recently quit — Professor Sutton was among officials who were sent an email that mentioned the use of private security, more than a month earlier.

Brett Sutton stands at a podium.
Brett Sutton should be recalled, the Opposition says.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

The March 27 email said certain points relating to hotel quarantine had been “agreed” at a National Cabinet meeting, including:

Ms Mikakos said in a statement to the inquiry that the email was provided to the inquiry but no witnesses were ever questioned about it.

Following The Age’s front-page report, Mr O’Brien said the inquiry should recall Professor Sutton.

“Clearly we need to understand when Professor Sutton did know about private security guards in hotel quarantine,” he said

“He gave one answer in evidence; documents seem to suggest something else. It’s appropriate that he be recalled to clarify the situation so that Victorians know exactly what the truth is.”

‘If they need more information, they’re free to call for it’

The Premier was asked about the discrepancy between the Chief Health Officer’s evidence and information provided by Ms Mikakos.

“This is a matter between the Chief Health Officer, the Department, and the Board [of Inquiry], so I can’t offer any commentary on that,” he said.

“I have no reason not to be [confident that Professor Sutton’s evidence was correct] but those matters are being followed up by the board.

“I’ve got no reason to be anything other than confident in his skills, his experience and his commitment to playing his important role.”

Daniel Andrews speaks at a podium with one hand raised.
Daniel Andrews says the inquiry is free to do as it wishes.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

Mr Andrews was also asked whether he would support the board of inquiry reconvening for public hearings to talk about matters such as Professor Sutton’s evidence and Mr Eccles’s phone records.

“The thing about an independent inquiry is they’re absolutely independent,” he said.

“They can make whatever judgements they believe are the most appropriate. So if they need more information, they’re free to call for it. If they want to do other things then they’re perfectly free to do that. That’s entirely a matter for them. And that is the nature of an arms-length, independent process, established under an act of the Parliament and that’s not a matter for me.”

Asked whether he would be willing to appear again if required, Mr Andrews said: “I’ve been at all times absolutely willing and determined to be as cooperative and helpful as possible.

“And that will not be changing. I set the thing up and I want the report and the report is due in just a few weeks and we’ll be able to talk more freely about it then.

“And every Victorian should be in no doubt that I will not waste a moment in taking the decisive action that’s necessary to make sure that these sorts of mistakes can never happen again, regardless of the context.”

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