Victoria has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 identified in a 24-hour period in Australia to date with 532 new cases announced by the premier Daniel Andrews on Monday, along with six more deaths of people aged in their 50s to 90s.
“We are seeing too many people for whatever reason attending work with symptoms,” Andrews said. “That just cannot continue. Otherwise, these restrictions will be in place for longer than they should be and I’m sorry to say – we’ll see more people die, particularly in aged care. Get tested and get tested quickly and then stay home until you get you get your result.”
He added that some people were feeling shame around their symptoms and positive diagnosis, causing them to delay telling close contacts for fear of being judged. “I had a bit of feedback from people that there might be some reticence to come forward,” he said.
“There might be a sense that you would be looked upon badly, that you would be somehow judged, that you would be not necessarily seen as doing the right thing – nothing could be further from the truth. If you have symptoms, coming forward and getting tested, it will be something we’ll be grateful for and it’s you making a powerful contribution and doing the right thing.”
He added that “lockdown will not end until people stop going to work with symptoms and instead go and get tested because they have symptoms”.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, on Monday said the state needed to keep all options on the table including a possible lockdown extension or tightening of restrictions. “The advice to many is it is premature at this point to be making those calls, but it also is important to keep all of the options on the table,” he said. “We need to be patient. There has been significant community transmission in Victoria. That will take some time to get on top of and that is what the actions directed to addressing right at this very moment.”
Andrews said around 400 healthcare workers now have active cases of the virus. On Monday afternoon it was revealed this includes a health care worker at the neonatal intensive care unit at the Royal Children’s Hospital. One patient and two parents at the unit have also been infected. All babies, staff and parents, including any Royal Children’s Hospital staff who have spent more than two hours on Butterfly Ward since 12 July will be tested.
The state’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said: “We’re at a very challenging stage with this wave. There’s probably not a country in the world that has gone through a second wave that hasn’t found it particularly challenging.
“It has very different and complex elements to it that make it quite difficult to manage.
“The population that gets affected tends to be younger, therefore, tends to be [of] a working age. Often there’s a lot more community transmission in that phase compared to wave one. That’s certainly true for Victoria and so we’re see that play out here – that our outbreaks, our areas of transmission are occurring in workplaces, mostly essential workplaces, and that it’s spilling over into aged care.”
There are now 84 cases linked to St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner, 82 to Estia Healthcare in Ardeer, 77 to Epping Gardens Aged Care and 62 to Menarock Life Aged Care in Essendon. Meanwhile 53 cases have been found in Glendale Aged Care in Werribee, 57 to Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth and 50 to Estia Aged Care in Heidelberg.
“The numbers are disturbing,” Sutton said. “It’s hard to read these out without considering the residents in these facilities will be people’s parents, grandparents, great grandparents and they are at significant risk of dying. That’s an inescapable fact in these settings. Where there are outbreaks in aged care, the mortality is extremely high. We know that from European outbreaks … deaths in aged care made up almost half of deaths in the UK, so these are critical areas to prevent introduction of the virus in the very first place.”
While these infections were mostly in residents, a casual, insecure workforce that saw aged care staff working between multiple facilities had exacerbated spread. There were now “hundreds” of aged care infections, Sutton said.
“The biggest outbreaks tend to have a number of staff who are infected … when you’ve got a number of staff who might be transmitting to each other, or are infecting residents and maybe getting infected by residents, that makes the size of an outbreak much more significant.
“I think we’ll see an increase in ICU cases in the next couple of weeks.”
Andrews added: “We know that if this gets into aged care settings, then that does present a very significant challenge. I know that the federal minister has been speaking with families directly overnight, I think that’s a very important thing to try to provide some of the information and clarity that some families had not been able to get. I know that would be a terribly difficult circumstance to find yourself in.
“The key point here is we’re all working very carefully. It’s not a matter of who’s responsible for this sector and who isn’t. That isn’t the issue.”
While the prime minister told reporters that anyone with the virus in aged care was moved into hospital, Andrews clarified that decisions as to whether to move residents were made on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s a function of the individual decisions that treating doctors make both about the infection, prevention and control risks in a given aged care setting, and also the clinical circumstances of that patient,” he said.
Private hospitals are also being utilised so that public hospitals aren’t stretched with caring for aged care residents who may not be severely ill.
Sutton said it was not feasible to move all aged care residents into hospitals. “I don’t think it would be the safest thing for that to occur,” he said. “There’ll be circumstances where residents are looked after right where they are.” This was especially true for residents with dementia, he added.
Meanwhile, New South Wales recorded 17 new cases of Covid-19, eight of them international travellers in hotel quarantine. There are now 70 cases linked to the cluster at Thai Rock restaurant in Wetherill Park, the health department said.
The Apollo, a Greek restaurant in Potts Points, will also be closed for two weeks after a staff member tested positive, NSW Health said on Monday night. It is the fourth restaurant in Sydney to close in two days and the second in Potts Point.
Authorities are also contacting anyone who attended two venues in south-west Sydney after a patron visited while infectious.
NSW Health is contacting staff and patrons who attended Mounties in Mount Pritchard at certain hours on 23, 24 and 25 July and directing them to isolate for 14 days and test if they develop symptoms.
The department is also alerting anyone who attended the bistro at Pritchard’s Hotel on 23 July between 7pm and 7.45pm to get tested if they have any symptoms of Covid-19.
Residents of Harris Park and Middleton Grange in western Sydney have been asked to get tested even if they have minimal symptoms.
The state’s premier, Gladys Berejiklian, urged people on Monday not to attend a Black Lives Matter rally scheduled in Sydney on Tuesday.
The NSW court of appeal on Monday afternoon upheld a decision by the state’s supreme court which meant the protest would be “unauthorised” and demonstrators could be fined or arrested. On Sunday, the supreme court had ruled in favour of police, who had sought to effectively ban the protests.
The organisers have said the rally will still go ahead – but it will now be held in the Domain rather than outside Town Hall.
“This is not a comment on the issues you feel strongly about,” Berejiklian said on Monday.
“Many of us feel strongly about those issues, but a pandemic is not the time to do this. Pick a different way, through social media or through letters or any other way to get your point across. Conducting a protest at this time is highly irresponsible. We are in a pandemic. This is not usual circumstances.”
Police will also attend, Berejiklian said, and would likely make arrests.
“Police don’t want to have to make arrests, but they will have to if they have to keep the community safe,” she said. “We are at a critical junction. We are still at high risk.”