Man in 50s dies from virus, regional restrictions tightened on state’s darkest day

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A Victorian man in his 50s has died from coronavirus, bringing Thursday’s death toll to 14 on the state’s darkest day. Six regional areas — including Geelong and the Surf Coast — are set to be brought under tighter restrictions from Friday.

A man in his 50s from Portland, in Victoria’s southwest, has died of COVID-19.

The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the death on Thursday night.

The DHHS said in a statement: “We regretfully confirm that today we were made aware of the passing of a Portland man in his 50s, from coronavirus. We pass on our condolences to his family and friends.”

It brings the number of deaths recorded on Thursday to 14.

The deaths included three men in their 70s, three men and two women in their 80s and two men in their 90s.

Victoria recorded its highest case numbers with 723 new cases on Thursday, prompting further restrictions in regional Victoria.

Residents in six local government areas will be banned from having visitors over from Friday, while all Victorians will be made to wear a face mask or covering from Monday.

The previous worst day was in Victoria on Monday when 532 cases and six deaths were announced.

It is the biggest single-day increase in Australia since the COVID pandemic began.

Victoria’s death toll stands at 106, and is Australia’s worst.

GEELONG, SURF COAST AMONG REGIONS UNDER TIGHTER RESTRICTIONS

With active cases rising to 255 in regional areas a further six LGAs will face harsher restrictions with no visitors allowed in private homes but they can continue to visit restaurants and cafes.

Residents of the local government areas of Colac Otway, Greater Geelong, Surf Coast, Moorabool, Golden Plains and Queenscliffe will no longer be able to visit people or have visitors at home from 11.59pm Thursday night.

Residents can continue to visit restaurants and cafes, with the Premier revealing household-to-household transmission was driving case numbers in the region.

When addressing why restaurants weren’t closing, Daniel Andrews said it “seems counterintuitive that you can go to the pub but you can’t go to your mate’s place”, but he said the rule was based on the data.

People appear to be following social distancing rules in public but “let their guard down at home”.

“Hugs and kisses and handshakes, not necessarily adhering to the protocols that are a feature of hospitality, cafes, restaurants, pubs being open,” he said.

“They are supervised environments. They are regulated environments. There are time limits, for instance.

“If the data said this was being transmitted in cafes, restaurants, pubs, we would chop them.

“Don’t be in any doubt about that: shut them.”

Mr Andrews said the government had looked to overseas models for guidance in managing face mask wearing at restaurants.

He said when patrons were seated and eating or drinking in regional Victoria, they would not need to wear a mask.

159 of the 255 active cases in regional Victoria are from the six local government areas that surround the Geelong corridor.

REGIONS REACT TO NEW RESTRICTIONS

Colac Otway Mayor Jason Schram said he welcomed the announcement of face masks rules but that other measures called for by locals had been ignored.

“We’re in day 12 of the first case, nearly two weeks, and they throw out a restriction on home visits.

“I can’t get my head around it.

“It’s like they’ve decided to throw a couple of restrictions out there to look like they’re doing something.”

Mr Schram said he had been appealing over the past week to the department for tough lockdowns on schools and aged care homes.

He also warned people from Melbourne hot spots were still able to travel to towns like Colac for work.

“That’s where we want that proactive approach rather than a kneejerk one,” he said.

“If you ask how it (coronavirus) got into the regions, generally it hasn’t been travellers or people sneaking for a picnic. It’s been workers.”

“I feel like I’m banging my head up against the wall.”

Mr Schram said a one-size fits all approach did not necessarily suit a big municipality such as his.

“It shows a lack of understanding of what’s going on in the regions,” he said.

“We’ve had whole-of-shire restrictions thrown on us … That includes places like Apollo Bay where there are no cases.”

Melburnians wear masks outside Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance.
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Melburnians wear masks outside Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. Credit: News Corp Australia, Mark Stewart

Corio MP Richard Marles urged Geelong residents to listen to the state government guidelines after Daniel Andrew’s announcement of further restrictions on regional Victoria.

The deputy Labor leader said people should support the local economy when they could while sticking to the new guidelines for Geelong.

“We can continue to support local businesses but we must do so by following the rules and keeping each other safe,” Mr Marles said.

“Because the reality is that we cannot afford for this virus to run rife throughout the Geelong community- the impact of that would be far greater for families and loved ones and for those who already rely so heavily on our healthcare system.

“These measures are about protecting our families and loved ones and protecting the Geelong community. We are a strong and resilient community, and we will get through this.”

Polwarth MP Richard Riordan, whose state electorate covers Colac and other areas west of Geelong, said locals had been left in the lurch by poor communication.

“The state government is just acting on the run all the time,” he said.

“What I’m really offended by is the statement that the numbers are still low in country Victoria.

“Colac only has a population of 12,000 people so this outbreak impacts a major share of the population.”

Mr Riordan said residents in regional Victoria could struggle to access masks and while some may not know about new rules before midnight on Thursday.

“There’s only one Bunnings in Colac … How are we going to make sure that everyone has a mask?” he said.

“There has been a complete lack of communication despite people screaming out to get some more information.

“Basic questions like whether farmers will need to wear them outside on their property will need answers.”

Mr Riordan said case numbers reported in the local community could sometimes take days to appear in releases from the Department of Health and Human Services.

He warned community transmission could already have occurred in the community.

– Alex White, Tamsin Rose and Kieran Rooney

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this week he expected the commission to probe the ‘very distressing situation in Victoria.
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this week he expected the commission to probe the ‘very distressing situation in Victoria. Credit: News Corp Australia, Gary Ramage

AGED CARE ROYAL COMMISSION LIKELY TO BE EXTENDED

The aged care royal commission is likely to seek an extension and extra resources to probe the “national tragedy” unfolding in Victorian facilities.

Three days of hearings are planned in August to consider the preparedness of aged care homes for an infectious disease outbreak.

But royal commission chair Tony Pagone said that would likely reveal the need for a “fuller and more forensic inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 in aged care”.

“Such an inquiry would need adequate time and resources extending beyond the time frame available to us. It will be for government to determine if such an inquiry is to be undertaken,” he said.

Scott Morrison said this week he expected the commission to probe the “very distressing” situation in Victoria.

In a statement, Mr Pagone the royal commission was not currently in a position to carry out a full inquiry into the impact of COVID-19.

“The issues associated with the impacts of COVID-19 in aged care warrant an inquiry of their own,” he said.

“The impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s aged care sector is a national tragedy. It is a human tragedy. At the moment, that tragedy is unfolding daily.”

“A telling illustration of the human tragedy and the changing circumstances is the situation in Victoria.”

“At the beginning of July there had been no COVID-19 related deaths associated with residential aged care in Victoria. There were two active cases and six recoveries. By 29 July 2020, there were 440 active cases and 47 deaths. Only three residents have recovered.”

– Tom Minear

CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER TARGETS NON-ESSENTIAL MOVEMENT

Keeping supply chains running and essential workers in jobs, while slowing the spread of the virus is the top priority for the nation’s medical expert panel.

Following a meeting of the AHPPC, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the panel had come up with recommendations around movement restrictions that would be provided to Scott Morrison and the national cabinet on Thursday evening.

He said it was crucial to get on top of any non-essential movement because “the virus generally spreads with people”.

“It’s people that move, not the virus,” Prof Kelly said.

He said the panel had looked at the restrictions placed on Melbourne so far and compared the Australian situation with what was happening in other countries.

“We looked at and considered what we knew from around the world and the best medical evidence has come forward about how to approach this problem,” Prof Kelly said.

“We also looked at what we had in terms of data from Victoria, some modelling as well around movement.”

Prof Kelly said movement restrictions had been quite successful “at a macro level” across Melbourne but the continued travelling of essential workers posed a threat to the efforts.

– Tamsin Rose

FACE MASKS MANDATORY ACROSS THE STATE

Face masks will be made mandatory across Victoria from 11.59pm Sunday August 2.

Mr Andrews also admitted the mandatory mask wearing was “essentially Stage 4 for Melbourne” and now was the time for regional areas to also step up, although many people in large regional centres were already doing so.

“These are preventive steps,” he said.

“They will be inconvenient for some.”

CORONAVIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

111 cases – St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner

94 cases – Estia Aged Care Facility in Ardeer

90 cases – Epping Gardens Aged Care in Epping

81 cases – Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth

67 cases – Estia Aged Care Facility in Heidelberg

62 cases – Menarock Life Aged Care Facility in Essendon

56 cases – Glendale Aged Care Facility in Werribee

52 cases – BaptCare Wyndham Lodge in Weribee

49 cases – Outlook Gardens Aged Care Facility in Dandenong North

42 cases – Arcare Aged Care Facility in Craigieburn

Other large outbreaks:

121 cases – Bertocchi Smallgoods in Thomastown

106 cases – Somerville Retail Services in Tottenham

82 cases – JBS in Brooklyn

64 cases – Australian Lamb Company in Colac

30 cases – Woolworths Distribution Centre Mulgrave

30 cases – Melbourne Health Royal Park Campus

22 cases – Respite Services Australia in Moonee Ponds

20 cases – Nino Early Learning Adventures in Bundoora

19 cases – Hazeldean Transition Care, Western Health

16 cases – Linfox Warehouse in Truganina

11 cases – Diamond Valley Pork in Laverton North

Public housing towers:

311 cases – North Melbourne and Flemington towers

66 cases – Carlton towers

VICTORIANS CONTUNUE TO DEFY RULES

Premier Daniel Andrews said the ADF had been door knocking people in quarantine but again people were defying the rules and leaving their homes which was “disappointing”

“If you are a positive case you need to be at home and you need to be isolating.”

The latest cases relate to aged care but workplaces remain the biggest issue with “too many people going to work with symptoms and people going to work with a positive result.”

The Premier revealed defence members who doorknocked 269 homes on Wednesday were shocked when they visited the home of a person who had tested positive, only to be informed by a family member that the person was at work.

The Premier said more than 1000 Victorians had received a $300 payment while waiting for a test result.

Face masks will be made mandatory across the state.
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Face masks will be made mandatory across the state. Credit: News Corp Australia, Jay Town

WILL LOCKDOWN CONTINUE PAST AUGUST 16?

Mr Andrews flagged restrictions may be extended, but said it was still too early to tell.

“One day’s data is not a trend and that’s been borne out today,” he said.

“The timing for restrictions will be based on data.

“These numbers are far too high. If it were next Sunday, this Sunday that we were due to open up again, the answer would be no.

“I don’t have an announcement today about what’s going to happen in three weeks”.

STATE OPPOSITION URGE FEDERAL INTERVENTION

State Opposition leader Michael O’Brien has said the latest figures shows Victoria could no longer handle the situation and said the Commonwealth should be brought in to take over the response.

“We do need help and we need the help of experts from the federal government,” he said.

“Not just boots on the ground but strategic direction.”

“I think the Premier and Professor Brett Sutton have done their best, but these numbers indicate that their best is not getting this virus under control.”

He also hit out at the new restrictions in some regional centres to ban visits to the home but keep the pub open.

RIFT WITH CANBERRA BLAMED FOR SURGERY SUSPENSION DELAY

Victoria’s decision to suspend elective surgery on Tuesday came almost two weeks after it was first raised by federal Health Department chief Brendan Murphy to free up hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

The delay caused major concern within the federal government as hospitals pushed back against aged-care providers wanting to transfer sick residents, amid issues with staff shortages.

The Herald Sun understands it took forceful phone calls from Scott Morrison to Daniel Andrews on Monday and Tuesday to ensure the elective surgery suspension went ahead, paving the way for aged-care residents to be moved to hospital and nurses redeployed to virus-hit facilities.

Federal Health Department chief Professor Brendan Murphy.
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Federal Health Department chief Professor Brendan Murphy. Credit: News Corp Australia, Gary Ramage

But the pair dismissed suggestions of problems in their relationship on Wednesday, as the Premier declared that “short of taking people off operating tables, it could be done no faster”.

Professor Murphy said that on July 15 — 11 days before the Scott Morrison and Dan Andrews phone call — he first spoke to a senior Victorian official about “what they were doing with elective surgery”.

“I have had many informal discussions with people late last week, certainly on the weekend,” he said. “On Sunday, I did say that this has become really crucial that this is stopped now; and I did make a very formal request.”

The Herald Sun understands the state government started planning the surgery suspension on Sunday and locked it in on Monday afternoon, but federal sources suggested Victoria remained reluctant even that night.

Professor Murphy described it as “a bit of a storm in a teacup”.

The Prime Minister, who described Melbourne’s COVID-19 outbreak as the “Victorian wave”, said reports about him having difficulties with Mr Andrews were “greatly exaggerated”.

“The Premier and I enjoy a very good working relationship. We enjoy a high level of respect for each other and the responsibilities we each have,” Mr Morrison said.

Mr Andrews said: “I have a very important, productive, professional and respectful relationship with the PM … Any talk of fights and arguments is simply wrong.”

Meanwhile, Professor Murphy said there were “clearly deficiencies in care” at St Basil’s aged-care home in Fawkner, as well as at Epping Gardens, which he hoped would be “stable” by Thursday.

“We will see deaths every day and that is a tragedy,” he said.

Mr Morrison said there had been “very distressing and concerning” scenes, as the federal government moved to send infection control experts to every Victorian facility, as well as dispatching five medical disaster response teams.

Professor Murphy said the commonwealth had struck a “very strong agreement” with Victoria to prioritise filling aged care staffing needs with public hospital workers.

Services Australia has been brought in to aid communication with families with relatives in affected facilities.

Mr Morrison, who ordered the aged care royal commission, said he was “not naive” to the challenges in the system and promised further support in the October budget.

INTERSTATE NURSES DEPLOYED TO VIC AGED CARE HOMES

More than 450 relief workers have been deployed to Victorian aged care homes battling coronavirus outbreaks.

Five expert nurse leaders from the elite AUSMAT response teams will also be sent in from today to co-ordinate the surge capacity response, along with two specialist logisticians.

Nurses will also arrive from South Australia’s health system at Melbourne aged care homes today.

SPEEDING DRIVER CLOCKED AT 200KM/H AVOIDING CHECKPOINT

A speeding motorist driving his aunt’s Holden Commodore was trying to avoid a coronavirus roadblock when he was clocked at 200km/h in Melbourne’s west overnight.

State Highway Patrol first spotted the man travelling at 110km/h in a 100 zone about 2am on Thursday heading towards the city on the Princes Freeway at Werribee.

Senior Constable Adam West said the Commodore drove past police and sped up to 200km/h, at least 100km/h over the speed limit.

He said officers managed to stop the driver near the Werribee multi-bypass where the Norlane man, 36, told police he was heading towards Melbourne on his way to Colac via Ballarat Rd to avoid the Geelong coronavirus checkpoint.

AGED CARE NURSE-PATIENT RATIOS BACK IN SPOTLIGHT

Aged care homes feeling the brunt of devastating coronavirus outbreaks have no regulations for nurse-to-patient ratios, prompting renewed calls to adopt similar targets to those at state government ­facilities.

Public sector residential homes in Victoria have a requirement that high-care wards have one nurse for every seven to eight patients and one nurse in charge. On night shifts this ratio is widened to one nurse for every 15 patients.

But these limits do not apply for private homes, regulated by the federal government, currently at the centre of deadly outbreaks and accusations of mismanagement.

There are 804 active COVID-19 cases in aged care facilities, with five of those from state government controlled public care homes.

Health Workers Union state secretary Diana Asmar said calls for nursing ratios had been ignored by federal political parties.

“If it’s good enough to have childcare staffing ratios or nursing ratios in Victoria’s public hospitals, then why are our elderly not worthy of the same level of care?” she said.

“It’s not uncommon for a single aged carer to have to care for 30 residents on night shift.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt said there was minimal infection difference in state facilities when compared with private facilities.

“About 1 per cent less of aged care state homes as a proportion of them that have been infected, and so that is similar, but they are largely in regional areas are not in the hot spot areas,” Mr Hunt said.

“That is a historic trend in Victoria to concentrate state homes, largely in regional areas and not in the hot spot areas.

“More generally, the royal commission is going on so I won’t pre-empt that, but we are the ones that called it.”

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
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Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Credit: AAP

A state government spokeswoman said: “Victoria became the first state in Australia to have nurse-to-resident ratios in its public sector residential aged care.

“Nurse to staff patient ratios provide an important safeguard for both patients and staff, and ensure residents are receiving the best care ­possible.”

– Kieran Rooney and Alex White

FUNDING BOOST FOR OUT OF HOURS SCHOOL CARE

ALMOST 900 outside school hours care services will share in $6 million in extra federal funding to keep them afloat during Melbourne’s coronavirus lockdown.

Education Minister Dan Tehan will announce the support boost on Thursday for services in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire which care for primary school students before and after their classes.

Providers will be eligible if attendance has dropped below 40 per cent of their usual level. They will receive payments for eight weeks, backdated to July 20 and calculated at 15 per cent of their normal revenue.

“We are taking action to ensure Victorian families can still access care as we deal with the current COVID-19 lockdown,” Mr Tehan said.

“Our support will help more than 880 OSHC services to keep their doors open and their staff employed.”

“It will help working families and vulnerable and disadvantaged children to continue to access outside school hours care, relieving pressure on essential workers, who will be reassured their children are being cared for while they do their important work.”

It follows changes to childcare fees to enable families to keep their kids home and maintain their childcare places without having to pay the gap fee.

Eligible outside school hours care services will be contacted by the Education Department from next Monday.

ABATTOIR SLAMMED FOR EARLY RETURN CALL

A meatworks linked to a coronavirus cluster has been allowed to open again despite union warnings staff are still yet to isolate for 14 days.

Turosi’s Golden Farms abattoir, near Geelong, has been linked to 10 confirmed coronavirus cases and closed over the weekend.

But on Wednesday the Department of Health and Human Services altered its advice to allow isolating workers to return to the workplace for cleaning operations.

United Workers Union national director Susie Allison questioned the decision and lashed out the company for not providing leave to workers, leaving them no choice but to return to the job early.

“These workers toiled away for this company only to be completely abandoned,” she said.

“How can workers have faith the company has their best interests at heart when this is how they are treated?

“The message is that workers’ welfare is none of their concern.”

Golden Farms worker Glenn Myhre said the outbreak had left staff feeling insecure.

“Casuals and people with no entitlements are going to be left in a really tight spot,” he said.

“We’ve worked hard for the company throughout the pandemic and now we are being left boxed in at home, and having to use up all our own entitlements.”

tom.minear@news.com.au

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