Acting Premier James Merlino has warned Victoria’s COVID-19 crisis “may well get worse before it gets better” as health authorities revealed almost a dozen new cases of the virus.
- Health authorities have reported 11 new cases of COVID in Victoria
- Three of the new cases are linked to an aged care facility in Maidstone
- More than 43,800 test results were received in the 24 hours to midnight
The health department reported five new cases in its update on Monday morning, and the Acting Premier revealed another six cases had been confirmed since then.
That takes the number of cases linked to the current outbreak to more than 50.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said it was hard to predict the trajectory of the outbreak.
Asked when the lockdown may lift, he said it was a day-to-day proposition.
“These are concerning numbers, these are concerning settings,” he said.
“It’s been a rapidly moving virus and the transmission that’s occurred in those high-risk settings has been very substantial so we have to take it as a day-by-day prospect.
Mr Merlino said the situation was “incredibly serious”.
“The next few days remain critical and I want to be really clear with everyone that this outbreak may well get worse before it gets better,” he said.
When asked if the “ring of steel” to separate metropolitan Melbourne from regional Victoria would be reintroduced, Professor Sutton said “it’s all to be determined”.
“It is not out of the question, it is not locked in,” he said.
The Chief Health Officer has previously flagged that the danger of people being able to leave outbreak-hit Melbourne for the regions was one key factor influencing the decision to make the lockdown statewide.
Aged care cases ‘of very great concern’
Health Minister Martin Foley said there had been three more cases linked an aged care home outbreak, which was of “very great concern to all Victorians”.
The outbreak at the Arcare Maidstone facility was detected over the weekend, after a woman in her 50s who had worked at the site last Wednesday, and Thursday tested positive.
Authorities were alarmed by that case because they were unable to discover a transmission link back to previously recorded cases in the state’s outbreak.
The three new linked cases are the son of the first worker, another Arcare worker, and a resident at the Maidstone home.
Arcare CEO Colin Singh said in a statement the COVID-positive resident, who is a woman in her 90s, had mild symptoms and had been moved to hospital so her condition could be monitored.
She had received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and was due to receive their second dose on Tuesday along with all consenting residents, he said.
Mr Singh said 53 of the 76 residents at Maidstone had consented to receive the vaccine.
Resident and staff vaccinations which had been scheduled for Tuesday had now been brought forward to Monday in light of the outbreak, Mr Singh said.
He said all workers were also being offered their first or second vaccine dose on Monday.
“We are doing everything possible to minimise any further exposure to residents and team members and have placed the Maidstone residence in lockdown,” Mr Singh said.
Private aged care workers are still doing shifts at multiple sites
Mr Foley said the second Arcare worker to test positive had also worked at BlueCross Western Gardens aged care home in Sunshine on May 26, 27 and 28.
BlueCross said the facility had entered a full lockdown while testing and contact tracing took place, with all residents asked to remain in their rooms.
Aged care workers have historically taken shifts across multiple sites in order to make a liveable wage, but the practice came under scrutiny after it contributed to Victoria’s deadly second wave last year.
Mr Merlino said Victoria’s state-run aged care homes now had policy settings and financial support so that they had “been able to have 100 per cent of aged care workers in metropolitan Melbourne who are not working across multiple sites”.
But that rule is not being enforced for the majority of aged care facilities, which are privately run and regulated by the federal government.
The Acting Premier said the Commonwealth should be asked why it had allowed workers to go back to working across multiple sites after pulling up the practice last year.
On Monday morning, the federal health department reminded aged care workers they should limit their work to a single facility during the initial high-risk period from May 27 to June 10.
It has advised people to work all shifts during this period with the aged care provider that can offer the most hours.
Royal Freemasons had also locked down two of its facilities after it was notified that two staff members had worked at Arcare in Maidstone.
However, all test results have come back negative and both sites at the Copping Centre and its Footscray home on Mephan Street had now been cleared.
Concern over several exposure sites
Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander, Jeroen Weimar, said 4,200 primary close contacts had been identified, and 77 per cent of those had so far returned negative test results.
However, he said authorities were concerned about several exposure sites, including:
- JMD Grocers and Sweets, 768 High Street, Epping, between 5:00pm and 5:45pm on May 22
- Healthy India, 276 Broadway, Reservoir, between 9:30am and 2:00pm on May 27
- Thai Huy Butcher, Shop 144/18 Irving Street, Footscray, between 1:40pm and 2:30pm on May 26
- Inday Fillipino, Store 121/81 Hopkins Street, Footscray, between 1:50pm and 2:40pm on May 26
The two venues in Footscray are both in Footscray Market.
Mr Weimar said assessments were being made on possible cases linked to three schools in Melbourne.
Health authorities received 43,874 test results on Sunday after another big day of testing.
More than 16,700 doses of vaccine were administered at state-run sites.
The vaccination figure is more than six times the 2,622 doses administered on the same day a week ago.