Victoria has toughened its stance on people returning to workplaces, flagging the possibility of fines for those who do not work from home if they can.
The state, which is still reporting Australia’s highest number of coronavirus cases, had seven new infections on Friday.
Premier Daniel Andrews said Victorians who have been working from home should keep doing so throughout June.
“We’re not requiring any more people to work from home than has been the case over these last eight to 10 weeks, we’re simply asking for the maintenance, the continuation of those work from home arrangements,” he said.
“It’s critically important to avoiding a second wave.”
Virus restrictions are set to relax in Victoria on Monday, June 1, allowing businesses, including cafes and restaurants, to again have dine-in guests and permitting people to gather in larger groups.
But the government has consistently asked people to put off returning to offices until at least July – in contrast to many other states, which are allowing people to return to workplaces sooner.
From Monday, the obligation for Victorians to work at home if possible will be included in the directions of the state’s chief health officer – and businesses might be fined for not enabling staff to stay at home.
“I don’t think we’ll get to that,” Mr Andrews said.
Almost 6000 Victorians have been fined for breaking coronavirus restrictions, triple the rate of any other state.
But as restrictions ease, only one person has been fined by Victoria Poice this week.
“Right now, we can’t have the usual number of people on our trains, trams and buses – it just isn’t safe,” Mr Andrews said.
“We know that if just half the people who normally use public transport start driving to work, we will see our freeways and other major roads grind to a halt.”
Among Victoria’s other new cases on Friday was a student from a school in Melbourne’s north-west. Chief health officer Brett Sutton said the student was part of a family cluster of six infections – with more cases likely.
Professor Sutton said the student was infectious when he attended Keilor Downs College on Tuesday, May 26. The school has been closed for cleaning, and the student’s close contacts are being traced.
Queensland nurse ‘changed story’
A nurse who might have spread coronavirus to a Queensland town did not tell investigators she’d recently been to Malaysia because she “wasn’t asked”, her union says.
The Rockhampton nurse is being investigated a possible link to the case of 30-year-old Nathan Turner, who died on Tuesday after becoming infected with the virus.
Mr Turner, 30, who had not left his central Queensland town of Blackwater since February, is the youngest person in Australia to die from the virus.
Queensland reported no new coronavirus infections on Friday.
The Nurses Professional Association of Queensland, which has been representing the nurse, told the ABC she had received death threats. It said on Friday that she went to Blackwater earlier than originally reported – information that has exasperated health officials, who say her story “has changed so many times”.
The woman sparked a health emergency at a Rockhampton aged-care home a fortnight ago after she continued to work while displaying symptoms of COVID-19.
Queensland Health initially thought she might have contracted the virus on a flight from Brisbane.
On Friday, NPAQ assistant state secretary Jack McGuire revealed previously unknown details of the nurse’s movements and called the Queensland government’s investigation into her a “political witch-hunt”.
Queensland Health has said the nurse drove the 200 kilometres to Blackwater in the second week of May, before she tested positive for coronavirus on May 14.
The next day, Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said the woman had shown symptoms for the illness from May 5 and was believed to be infectious from May 3.
However, on Friday, Mr McGuire said the nurse went to Kuala Lumpur during March and went into isolation on her return.
Her isolation finished on April 10, and she went to a lookout near Blackwater the next day – and then into the town itself.
Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said the woman’s “story has changed so many times”.
“She gave us one story and then, subsequent to that, we’ve found out additional information,” Dr Young said.
“We need to try to untangle and sort that through. That’s very, very important.”
Anxiety remains high in Blackwater, where three fever clinics are operating, and sewage will be tested to determine if there is any local transmission of the virus.
NSW eases measures for religious services
NSW will ease coronavirus restrictions on religious services, weddings and funerals from Monday, when measures to increase pub and restaurant patronage come into effect.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Friday that from June 1, up to 20 people can attend weddings, 50 at funerals and 50 at places of worship.
However, strict social distancing guidelines would continue to apply.
“It is crucial that worshippers remember to follow health advice. This is particularly important for people with co-morbidities aged over 50 and people aged over 70,” Ms Berejiklian said.
The government had been wary about adjusting the restrictions on places of worship after observing COVID-19 outbreaks in churches and church choirs overseas.
But state religious leaders pushed for the relaxation after the government last week announced up to 50 people would be allowed to dine in restaurants, pubs and cafes from June 1.
The state had two new COVID-19 cases from more than 9900 tests on Friday. Both were in returned overseas travellers in Sydney hotel quarantine.