A second virus cluster attached to a Melbourne workplace has raised questions about how the Victorian government responded to an abattoir outbreak that could have been quashed earlier.
Both clusters grew further on Thursday, with eight people – four staff and four close contacts – confirmed infected from the outbreak at the McDonald’s at Fawkner, in Melbourne’s north.
The Cedar Meats cluster is now one of Australia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, accounting for 91 infections.
Victoria has 110 active COVID-19 cases among a total of 1523 infections.
The state government and Cedar Meats’ management have defended their handling of the meat works outbreak, including allowing staff to work for several days after the first workers tested positive.
But on Thursday Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton admitted authorities could have acted earlier.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have waited for a third linked case,” he told 3AW radio.
“Maybe for these settings we should shut an entire place down, not just the boning room where it all started, but an entire facility.”
Later, deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth said every coronavirus outbreak should be seen as a chance for health authorities to learn.
“We do not think the Victorian public health unit or the chief health officer dropped the ball at Cedar Meats,” he said.
“It is of utmost importance to look at the clusters we have had and learn from them and manage them even better next time.”
The first case to linked the meat works was confirmed on April 2. But Cedar Meats was not considered a potential virus hot spot because the employee said they hadn’t been at work for weeks.
Cedar Meats was not shut down until April 29, after more two cases surfaced on April 24 and 25. By then, infections were confirmed in contacts of workers, including a nurse and an aged-care employee.
A spokesman for WorkSafe confirmed it will investigate the Brooklyn abattoir.
The probe will examine whether the abattoir, in Melbourne’s west, was using social distancing measures and if workers had appropriate personal protective equipment and hand sanitiser.
Cedar Meats general manager Tony Kairouz said WorkSafe had advised him of the investigation.
“We welcome it. We will co-operate fully,” he said on Wednesday.
Cedar Meats said it will restart its cold storage facility on Monday, with a minimum of staff.
Nine new coronavirus cases were confirmed in Victoria on Thursday, including the two linked to the Fawkner McDonald’s and three from Cedar Meats.
The McDonald’s cluster might also expand further as coronavirus tests are returned.
The outlet reopened on Wednesday after an intensive clean, staffed with workers from surrounding McDonald’s.
McDonald’s Australia chief executive Andrew Gregory said most of the Fawkner site’s 100 employees had been tested and were negative.
But not all the results have come back.
“It’s possible we will get a small number of positive infections,” he told 3AW.
The first staffer who tested positive last worked at the McDonald’s on April 30.
Despite the growing clusters, Professor Sutton said it was reassuring that new cases weren’t related to community transmission.
NSW school closes
A school in Sydney’s west was closed for cleaning on Thursday after a teacher tested positive to COVID-19.
Werrington Public School, near Penrith, was closed just days after NSW students were urged back into classrooms for face-to-face learning.
“The school is also working with the Health Department to identify students and staff who were in contact with the person who tested positive for the coronavirus,” the school said in a statement.
“Each of these people will be given medical advice.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said such outbreaks had to be expected.
“We have to accept circumstances where there’ll be a teacher or another person around the school community acquiring the virus,” she said.
The case was one of four reported in NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday from 9700 tests. The state has had 3063 confirmed infections, and eight people are in intensive care.
From Friday, pubs and clubs will join cafes and restaurants in NSW in being allowed to reopen. They will have to follow social distancing requirements and limit customers to 10.
Bars and gaming facilities will remain closed but table service for alcohol with a meal will be allowed.
Ms Berejiklian said authorities understood it might not be viable for larger venues to open.
“We do need to take these smaller steps forward,” she said.
“We can’t really go any further at this stage because there’s a lot of activity already happening at the moment, we need to make sure we collect good data on what that extra level of activity means.”
Tasmania’s hospitals open
Hospital services in north-west Tasmania forced to shut by the deadly outbreak are about to reopen fully.
The North West Regional Hospital and its private counterpart in Burnie shut in mid-April after dozens of healthcare workers and patients there tested positive.
The state government had announced the hospitals would reopen fully on Thursday but that has been pushed back one day.
The emergency department at the Mersey Community Hospital at Latrobe in the north-west, where many patients were transferred after the outbreak, will reopen at the end of May.
About two-thirds of the state’s 225 cases have been linked to the outbreak, and 12 of 13 virus deaths occurred in the north-west.
Tasmania has gone six days without new coronavirus cases and is eyeing reopening cafes and restaurants.
The island has had just four cases in May and will move to stage one of a plan out of restrictions on Monday.
Public gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed, while the same number will be permitted at playgrounds, eateries and libraries.
Queensland job losses
Queensland has no new cases of COVID-19 but its economy is officially sick.
Almost 130,000 people lost their jobs in April, leaving the state with the second-highest unemployment rate in the country.
“It is really sobering thought when you think about the number of people in this state who don’t have jobs because of no fault of their own,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Thursday.
“We have not ever had to deal with anything like this in our lifetime.”
In a matter of weeks, 129,000 people lost their jobs, compared to 221,400 in NSW and 127,100 in Victoria, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show.
Of the 1052 coronavirus cases in Queensland, only 16 people are yet to recover.
Authorities have already begun rolling back social distancing measures.
School ‘compulsory’ in WA
Western Australia will reinstate compulsory school attendance from next week as the state records another new case of COVID-19.
A woman in her 30s from Perth has tested positive after being in close contact with a previously-confirmed case.
There are seven active cases in WA, including one in intensive care.
Parents had the option of keeping kids home from school for the first few weeks of term two, but all will be required to attend from Monday.
“This is a great day for WA students and the wider West Australian community,” Premier Mark McGowan said on Thursday.
“Once again Western Australia is leading the way.”