Health Minister Martin Foley has warned the state is in a “precarious position” after it recorded six new locally acquired cases, including one in a student at a specialist school in Melbourne’s west.
- Victoria has recorded six new locally acquired COVID-19 cases which are linked but were not quarantined while infectious
- Two Virgin flights in and out of Melbourne are among recent exposure site listings
- Mr Foley said lockdowns would remain key to suppressing outbreaks until vaccination rates lifted
All of the new cases are linked to previous cases but were not in quarantine while infectious.
Mr Foley said the new cases were:
- Three members of a household who were linked to the early case in a teacher at Al-Taqwa College. Two of these were announced on Thursday
- A cleaner who worked shifts in administrative parts of the Epworth hospital in Richmond, and is a housemate of a City of Maribyrnong case
- Two other cases related to the City of Maribyrnong outbreak, including a student at the Warringa Park specialist school in Hoppers Crossing
COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said the case at the Warringa Park School was a concern, given there could be children at the school with underlying health concerns.
“It’s the first sensitive setting that we’ve seen in this current outbreak, so obviously we’re working closely with the school community to make sure they’re OK,” he said.
Epworth HealthCare said in a statement the contractor worked on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between 6:00pm and 9:00pm, cleaning on levels six and eight of the Richmond medical centre.
“The contractor only worked in the medical centre and did not clean in any patient area,” the statement said.
The cases were detected from among 29,631 test results processed on Thursday.
“Victoria is in a precarious position when it comes to where this particular series of outbreaks are at the moment,” Mr Foley said.
“It is in all of our hands to continue to work together, to work with our public health teams to get on top of and ahead of this particular outbreak.
“We have driven down this Delta variant and we can do it again.”
Two Virgin flights in and out of Melbourne have been added to Victoria’s list of exposure sites, which includes dozens of shops across the city’s west.
Mr Weimar said Victorians should keep a “beady eye” on the exposure sites in the coming hours and days.
“We will see, we think, exposure sites start to spread across wider parts of the city and potentially regional Victoria as our contact tracing interviews continue,” he said.
Mr Weimar also highlighted recent wastewater detections in bayside Melbourne and Cranbourne in the city’s south-east, again urging anyone with symptoms to get tested immediately.
“We did not go into lockdown for trivial reasons,” he said.
“We didn’t go into lockdown just because we’re worried about a small number of cases in the western suburbs.
“We’re worried about a Delta penetration again here in Victoria, we’re worried that it might be seeding out quite widely, we’re worried it might be going to places that we haven’t yet seen.
“I know it’s frustrating, I know it’s tedious, but you need to go and get tested if you’ve got any symptoms because that’s the only way that we’ll find it.”
Gyms, cafes and other businesses promised more lockdown payments
Mr Weimar said there was a $400 isolation payment available for people who needed to miss work to have a test, and $1,500 available to people who had to isolate.
“We will do everything we can to ensure that you can isolate safely and effectively,” he said.
“Please support one another, please support those who are doing the hard yards, making difficult decisions, having to isolate, to sit at home with the kids.”
Mr Weimar said the cases across Hobsons Bay and the City of Maribyrnong had been identified as the Delta strain of the virus and scientists were still checking for any matches on the Australian genomic sequencing database.
Jobs Minister Martin Pakula said $400 million in business support was on offer as a jointly funded package from the state and Commonwealth governments.
He said more than 90,000 businesses including gyms and cafes would be automatically paid a grant of $2,800 in response to the latest lockdown.
The package also includes additional payments for pubs and alpine businesses missing out on their crucial ski season.
Brunswick gym owner Ben Lustig said despite being told he would be receiving support for the fourth lockdown weeks ago, he was still waiting for that payment to arrive.
“At this point, the majority of the earnings are actually going back to staff, just so we can keep everything afloat,” he said.
“I’ve also had more colleagues close in the last two lockdowns than the entirety of last year and that’s because of one simple reason, there’s a distinct lack of support and there’s a lack of timely support as well.”
Mr Lustig said he was supportive of the public health measures that were needed, but support was needed.
“In order to have an effective public health response you need to be able to support your citizens to do just that and do the right thing,” he said.
Mr Foley said he understood that “nobody likes lockdowns” but they would remain a “major tool” in the months ahead, until 70 per cent population vaccination thresholds were reached.
“We can’t rule out their future use but at the moment we’re simply focused on getting ahead of this particular outbreak and avoiding the kind of catastrophe that Sydney and NSW are enduring at the moment,” he said.
Mr Foley said the government hoped to be able to roll out the AstraZeneca vaccine through its state-run clinics from next week for those under 60 who wish to receive it.
“We’ll have more to say about the logistics, and the authorisation and the following of the national ATAGI guidelines on that in the very near future,” he said.
He said the government had asked the Commonwealth to bring forward the delivery of around 150,000 of Victoria’s allocated Pfizer doses due to “enormous unmet demand”.
Wangaratta wastewater testing controversy sparks political stoush
Health authorities have confirmed there were positive readings for COVID-19 wastewater fragments in the Wangaratta area in the July 28 to July 30 period, and that reports otherwise are incorrect.
In announcing the Victorian lockdown on Thursday, Premier Daniel Andrews had said wastewater test results around Wangaratta in the state’s north-east were one of the reasons why the lockdown included regional communities.
In their COVID-19 update on Thursday night, health authorities urged anyone who had been in Wangaratta or surrounding towns including Milawa and Oxley around July 28-30 to be on high alert for COVID-19 symptoms after wastewater testing detected fragments of the virus.
But Wangaratta Mayor Dean Rees today told reporters his council had been informed that the wastewater testing result was inaccurate.
“Our CEO has spoken directly to … [COVID-19 response commander] Jeroen [Weimar] and he has confirmed with us that that was incorrect,” he said.
“That in fact a week ago we had a positive reading in our sewer system, but we’ve had two negatives since and at this stage we are COVID-free in our sewer system.
“So we did have a positive read over a week ago, but subsequent, two negative reads.”
Mr Rees said the highlighting of the test result on Thursday was probably “scaremongering” which had created unnecessary anxiety in the community.
But on Friday evening, a Department of Health spokesperson confirmed the positive results to the ABC.
“Public health advice is that anyone who lives, works or has visited Wangaratta and the surrounding suburbs between July 28 to July 30 should get tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms regardless of further wastewater results,” the spokesperson said.
“In the last 28 days in regional Victoria, positive readings for COVID-19 wastewater fragments have been detected in Bacchus Marsh, Bendigo, Koorlong, Somers and Wangaratta.”
The spokesperson said the wastewater testing program was designed as an early warning system.
“Wastewater sampling is one of many elements that contribute to public health decisions,” the spokesperson said.
“The recent Delta outbreaks have spread into regional Victoria from metropolitan Melbourne – Ballan, Bacchus Marsh and Mildura.
“Limiting movement across the state is the quickest and most effective way to stop the spread of this virus.”
However, Wangaratta Mayor Dean Rees also said he did not believe regional Victoria should be subject to the same lockdown as Melbourne, where all confirmed cases reside.
“I feel perhaps the whole of Melbourne should have had a good lockdown in relation to this but country areas past a certain shire or local government area should be allowed to operate as we’ve been going,” he said.
“It’s hurting our business, it’s number six, there’s going to be a seven, eight, nine and 10, every time we get a case. We just … can’t afford it.”
When asked about the issue at Friday’s COVID-19 briefing, Health Minister Martin Foley declined to clarify the situation but noted health officials had been in touch with the local council.
But he downplayed the significance of the result, describing it as just one part of the “rich tapestry” of information considered by the public health team before they recommended a statewide lockdown.
“The rules apply to us all because we’re all facing a similar risk,” he said.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien has seized on the news, calling for the lockdown across part of regional Victoria “where there’s no COVID” to be lifted.
Wastewater detections in Melbourne’s east
On Friday evening, the Department of Health said there had been new wastewater detections in the east of Melbourne.
“There have now been five unexpected detections over the last two weeks in samples from the catchment that includes Balwyn, Camberwell, Canterbury, Mont Albert and Surrey Hills,” it said.
“They may be due to someone who has had COVID-19, is no longer infectious and is continuing to shed the virus — or it may be due to an active but undiagnosed case in that area.
“Anyone who lives, works or has visited the above suburbs in Melbourne’s east between July 26 and August 4 is urged to watch for the slightest of COVID-19 symptoms and get tested as soon as possible if any symptoms develop.”
School community rallies behind infected couple
Health authorities are racing to test and quarantine nearly 2,500 primary close contacts linked to Al-Taqwa College in Melbourne’s west.
A Victorian-first pop-up testing and vaccination site is running at the school between 8:00am 8:00pm, allowing people to both get tested for COVID-19 and get a dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“We have had fantastic support … from Al-Taqwa College and working with their school leadership to reach out to the whole school community,” Mr Weimar said.
Al-Taqwa College spokesperson Terry Barnes said he felt morale at the school was “pretty good” and the one-stop site for both testing and vaccinations was in strong demand.
“It’s showing that the community is rallying and doing what needs to be done,” Mr Barnes told ABC Radio Melbourne.
He said the school community was also rallying behind the teacher and her partner who tested positive earlier this week.
Mr Barnes said there had been some “very unpleasant social media and emails sent to the college” after the cases came to light and a lockdown was called.
“The college is not the problem here, the college has done everything it can to keep COVID out,” he said.
“The couple themselves, they did nothing wrong, they did everything right, their doctors said they did everything right in coming forward and getting tested and isolating.
Werribee school student among recent cases
Heathdale Christian College, in Melbourne’s west, has told parents a confirmed case of COVID-19 has been recorded at the school.
The school said a child in year 6 at the school’s Werribee campus had tested positive and the campus was closed until further notice.
The school has also closed its kinder and authorised worker programs at its Melton campus.
The school said students who were at either campus on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday this week must get tested and quarantine.
Students and teachers from years 5 and 6 at the school must quarantine for 14 days.