Coronavirus testing will be stepped up in Australians quarantined after returning from overseas, amid reports that 30 per cent of people in Victorian hotels are refusing to be tested.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy – in his last day in the job on Friday – said people entering Australia would now be tested for COVID-19 upon entry and exit from their 14-day hotel quarantine.
Professor Murphy said the risk from infected people returning from overseas remained high and Australia’s “risk profile is changing all the time”.
“We are going to start testing people on entry to quarantine and testing people before they leave quarantine to see whether a testing regime might help in the future,” he said.
“We know it is a burden on our returning citizens and permanent residents, [but] it is something the great majority are very happy to put up with because they know they’re protecting their fellow Australians from this virus.”
Professor Murphy’s toughened stance came as Victorian authorities revealed that some people in quarantine there had refused virus testing. He said states and territories could compel testing.
“You have powers to say to someone: ‘Well, we won’t let you out of quarantine until you’ve been tested and had a clear test’,” Professor Murphy said.
“We will … make sure people understand before they come that [testing] is a requirement. I think most people will co-operate with that arrangement.”
Earlier, Victorian deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen said 30 per cent of Australians in quarantine hotels were refusing tests. This likely means there are coronavirus cases missing from official Victorian and national tallies.
Outbreaks transferring from infected people in hotels to the wider Melbourne community has also been an issue.
“At the moment, there is not a requirement that they must undertake testing,” Dr van Diemen said.
“Everyone is offered testing on multiple occasions throughout their stay.”
There have also been refusals among people door-knocked during Victoria’s suburban blitz, which aims to test 100,000 people in 10-days amid the state’s worrying coronavirus spike.
“It is disappointing,” Dr van Diemen said.
“We would like to really emphasise the message that it is important to get tested and important for us to find every case in those areas. We understand why people might have reservations but we are trying to make it is absolutely easy for everybody possible to get tested.”
The mass blitz involving 800 testers will focus initially on two Melbourne suburbs – Broadmeadows and Keilor Downs. Next week, it will spread to other identified hotspots in Maidstone, Albanvale, Sunshine West, Hallam, Brunswick West, Fawkner, Reservoir and Pakenham.
Victoria reported 30 new coronavirus cases on Friday, including in a staff member at a McDonald’s at Mill Park, in Melbourne’s north, and a second worker at Orygen Youth Health in Footscray, in the inner west.
After the state’s 10th day of double-digit COVID increases, it has 183 active cases, with six patients in hospital.
NSW had six cases on Friday, including one in a year seven student at Camden High School, in Sydney’s south-west. Queensland had one new case, in a quarantined traveller.
Moving on with opening up
Australia is still on track in its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, despite Victoria’s spike in COVID-19 infections, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says.
“Certainly, of course, we have some challenges in Victoria at the moment but I think that does put it in perspective,” he said.
“We remain on track, the curve remains flat.”
Mr Morrison said the national cabinet, which met on Friday, remained firm on progressing through its three-step plan for easing restrictions.
After the national cabinet meeting, he revealed it had agreed to ease rules for “smaller premises”. They will be able to move to a two-square-metre rule, down from four square metres – meaning more patrons for smaller cafes, restaurants and bars.
Mr Morrison said the definition of “smaller premises” will be determined by each state and territory.
“But, as a rule of thumb, that’s around about 100 square metres,” he said.
Tasmania and Western Australia have already moved to the two-square-metre rule.
“I think it shows the flexibility that is now being able to be built into the response based on the experience that everybody is happening and is being shared,” Mr Morrison said.
Border restrictions tumble
Tasmania plans to reopen its borders to mainland Australia on July 24 – although the final decision will be based on public health advice.
Premier Peter Gutwein said the state would review the COVID situation in other jurisdictions, particularly Victoria, in the next month.
“As the circumstances stand, if we were opening up tomorrow, we would not be opening up our borders with Victoria,” he said.
“I don’t care who is calling for it, whether it be a lobby group, the Prime Minister. If the public health advice is we should maintain restrictions, we will.”
Tasmania has gone 42 days without a new COVID-19 case and is free of active cases.