One of the country’s most senior doctors has made an emotional plea for more to be done about Victoria’s virus crisis, warning the state is a “heartbeat away from calamity”.
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said there had been an “astronomical explosion” in COVID cases in Victoria’s aged-care homes.
“Our residents in aged-care facilities are just a heartbeat away from calamity,” he told the Today show on Thursday.
“We have seen this astronomical explosion in cases there. The PPE is not being worn. Infection control procedures are not being implemented in some.
“This is just absolutely unsustainable and we are just going to see the [case] numbers continue to rise.”
On Wednesday, Australia had its biggest daily increase yet in coronavirus cases, with 502 people diagnosed – driven largely by Victoria’s record 484 infections.
Victoria also confirmed more deaths – two men in their 90s who were previously aged-care residents.
There are 45 COVID outbreaks in aged-care facilities in Victoria, with 383 staff and residents testing positive.
The state has had two weeks of triple-digit daily increases in infections – with the numbers refusing to fall despite millions of Melburnians having spent a fortnight in renewed stage three lockdowns.
Mask-wearing became mandatory in Melbourne on Thursday, as authorities struggle to control the outbreak.
NSW is also on edge, with rising infections linked to venues, schools and aged-care facilities.
Dr Tony Bartone said only “trusted leadership” would help Australia out of the COVID crisis. He has urged national cabinet – which next meets on Friday – to act as a circuit breaker.
“A trusted leadership, trusted medical leadership, clinicians at the table, like we had in the first wave nationally, is what we need now,” he said.
“People are becoming frustrated and complacent, not listening to the messages, and we need to re-assert that leadership.”
Dr Bartone said Victoria’s crisis was a national problem – and only a multifaceted approach would quell the outbreak.
“What happens in Victoria has started to impact up the eastern seaboard,” he said.
“We are talking about people’s health, wellbeing, their mental health, and people’s livelihoods now and this is why we need to really get this going.”
Later, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt agreed Victoria’s situation was “deeply serious”.
“We’re focussing on bringing resources to Victoria, to assist and our task has been to surge the aged care workforce, provide the support there,” Mr Hunt told the show.
“But perhaps most critically, for the future and the health of the state, to assist with Victoria in their coordination of their tracing program. To achieve that outcome of each case, every day, that is fundamental to stemming the flow.
“It’s a combination now of that tracing, of those protective measures and then working with the Victorian public on the critical elements such as masks, the distancing, the cough etiquette, all of these things.
“It’s a partnership between the public and the government.”
Also on Wednesday, deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd said 98.8 per cent of the more than 2400 new cases detected in Australia in the past week had been locally acquired.
“We reported only two cases on June 9, less than six weeks ago, and this shows how quickly outbreaks can occur and spread,” he said.
“If you have symptoms, you must stay at home. You must not go to work. You must not go to school, you must not go shopping.”
Almost 90 per cent of the 3810 people to contract the disease in Victoria in the past two weeks did not self-isolate in the period between feeling sick and getting tested.
More than half didn’t isolate while waiting for their results.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has warned the current six-week lockdown – which is due to end in mid-August – will be extended if infection rates do not fall.
“You must go and get tested when you feel sick. That is the only thing that you can and must do,” he said.