Victoria’s coronavirus surge has taken a deadly turn, with two fatalities on the same day the state posted its worst COVID infection numbers yet and other states moved to restrict visitors from Melbourne.
The deaths of two men, one in his 60s and the other in his 90s, were confirmed on Monday. Both died in Melbourne hospitals.
It came as reports emerged that seven staff from Victoria’s busiest emergency department have tested positive over the last five days.
The ABC said the Northern Hospital in Epping outbreak had resulted in extensive contact tracing and the hospital’s emergency department was undergoing a deep clean.
“All staff in the emergency department are being tested as a precaution,” the spokesperson told the ABC.
Non-urgent elective surgeries and outpatient appointments have been postponed to free up capacity, while non urgent cases are being told to see their own doctor.
Sources from the hospital told the ABC only ambulances with code one emergencies where a person is time-critical were being taken to the hospital’s emergency room, and all other ambulances were being diverted to The Alfred Hospital.
The news came as Premier Daniel Andrews warned all Victorians should cooperate with the state’s lockdowns.
“We need everybody to follow the rules use and common sense, and fundamentally understand no one will be spared the cost of a second wave,” he said. “It will affect everyone.”
Victoria has now had 22 coronavirus deaths, and Australia has 106.
The state has had 20 consecutive days of double-digit new COVID infections. It has 650 active cases, an increase of 590 in four weeks, while other states have remained stable.
Two suspected cases of COVID-19 were reported on Monday in the NSW border town of Albury.
“One suspected case had recently travelled to Melbourne and had returned prior to hotspot travel restrictions coming into force,” a NSW Health statement said.
The two suspected cases returned preliminary positive tests, with more testing underway and close contacts put in isolation
More than 350,000 people in dozens of Melbourne suburbs have been forced back into stage three restrictions, while thousands of residents of nine high-rise apartment towers are in a hard lockdown at least until the end of the week.
Mr Andrews was blunt about what lay ahead for the state.
“This is serious, this is real, and no Victorian has any excuse but to take this seriously,” he said.
“Otherwise, we will finish up in a situation where all postcodes are locked down. No one wants that and no one through their actions and the choices they make should make that more likely.”
He confirmed 127 new infections on Monday, and said Victoria would close its border with NSW from midnight on Tuesday. The decision was made in consultation with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
“All of us have agreed that the best thing to do is close the border – that closure will be enforced on the NSW side,” Mr Andrews said.
The Northern Territory government declared all of Melbourne a “hotspot” and ordered all arrivals from the Victorian capital would have to undergo two weeks of mandatory supervised quarantine when NT borders reopen on July 17.
On Monday night, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said his decision was based on advice from NT Chief Medical Officer Hugh Heggie that undetected outbreaks were occurring in Melbourne suburbs.
“The Chief Health Officer’s advice is that there are outbreaks in Melbourne suburbs that have not yet been identified as hotspots,” Mr Gunner said.
“He also advised me that while these outbreaks are confined to the Melbourne metropolitan area, they extend across Melbourne, making them more difficult to contain to specific suburbs.
“As a result of this advice, I have directed him to designate every local government area in Greater Melbourne as a COVID-19 hotspot for the purposes of travel to the Northern Territory.”
With aviation links being wound down between Victoria and New South Wales, the Department of Defence will help NSW Police in what Ms Berejiklian labelled the “mammoth task” of border enforcement.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said authorities would monitor 55 border crossings across five southern NSW police districts. Police will also use drones to monitor remote dirt tracks, and even the Murray River in case people try to swim across it.
He admitted that for at least the remainder of the week there would be major delays for essential NSW-Victoria border crossings.
An online exemption program will be established, but life in the short term will also be challenging for those in Albury-Wodonga, Echuca or Mildura.
“The task is not lost on me in terms of the enormity of logistics of this operation,” Mr Fuller said.
A time frame has not been placed on the closure.
“We always have a keen eye on jobs and the economy, but what has primarily motivated us is the health advice because if you’re not in control of the virus, you’re not in control of the economy or the prospect of your people being employed and having a normal life,” Ms Berejiklian said.
She has been a staunch opponent of states, particularly Queensland, closing their borders during the pandemic. But she said the Victorian decision had been made on health advice.
“We wouldn’t have taken this step unless we absolutely had to,” she said.
NSW had 10 new coronavirus infections on Monday.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk welcomed the Victorian decision.
Queensland will relax its border restrictions from July 10, although not for Victorians.
Mr Andrews said the closure meant staff at airports and train stations could be redeployed into “much more important roles”.
Stood-down Qantas staff have also been called up to work on Victoria’s hotel quarantine program, reporting to the Department of Justice.
More than 100 additional personnel from the Australian Defence Force will be called in to help.
Chief health officer Sutton Brett Sutton said the number of known cases in the nine locked-down public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne had almost doubled since Sunday, from 27 to 53.
“It’s … really not unexpected,” he said.
“It is exactly the reason why these towers are in a hard lockdown and why we’re doing extensive testing across all of them.”
More than 3000 meals and 500 hampers of food were distributed to residents in the towers on Sunday, while about 350 personal care packs, including soap, deodorant, toothpaste, nappies and baby formula, have been handed out on Monday morning, as well as bread and milk.
Professor Sutton said levels of community transmission were “reasonably low”, with 13 new infections on Monday.
Increases of 20-30 community transmission cases a day were recorded last week.
The previous daily high for the number of new COVID-19 cases recorded in Victoria was 111 on March 28.
Mr Andrews said the rising number of new cases was challenging.
“All of us have got a part to play in getting control of this virus, stabilising it, driving down case numbers, containing it and then getting back to a point where we can resume our program of opening up,” he said.
“This could not be more serious.”