Australian Defence Force personnel will start door-knocking Victorians who have tested positive to COVID to bolster the state’s contact tracing as the outbreak continues to spread.
Premier Daniel Andrews said ADF personnel will join state health officials in special teams to contact people who have not been reached by phone.
The aim will be to ensure all positive cases are contacted within 24 hours of receiving their test result.
“Many of them will be contacted much sooner than that,” Mr Andrews said on Friday.
The move came as Victoria recorded its deadliest day in the pandemic yet, with the deaths of seven more people. They were two men and two women in their 80s and two men and a woman in their 90s – five of them connected to burgeoning outbreaks that are crippling the state’s aged-care facilities.
Authorities initially reported six deaths on Friday, only to confirm the seventh later in the day.
They bring Victoria’s COVID toll to 56, and Australia’s to 140.
Mr Andrews said Victorians who test positive for COVID-19 will now get two telephone calls in a two-hour period.
If they do not pick up, ADF personnel and state health officials will arrive at their door to do contact tracing in person.
“Ultimately, this will mean that in each 24-hour period, we will have taken those extra steps and made that extra effort in order to make sure that we are contacting each and every one of those positive cases,” he said.
Earlier in the week, it was revealed about a third of people were not picking up the phone when contact tracers called.
Mr Andrews said a much smaller number of people were answering but refusing to cooperate.
Since Wednesday, 65 properties have been visited as part of the new process.
There have been concerns about the strain on Victoria’s contact tracing as its confirmed COVID cases have blown out in recent weeks. The state has nearly 4000 active infections – a number that is stretching resources at every level.
There are now 1400 ADF personnel in Victoria helping with the spiralling virus crisis. They are also helping Victoria Police to enforce checkpoints and other measures in the Melbourne-wide lockdown.
“Members of Victorian community across metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire will see more members of the ADF moving around doing this important work,” Mr Andrews said.
NSW tightens restrictions
NSW Police will enforce tightened restrictions that came into effect for the state’s restaurants, clubs, cafes and event venues on Friday.
Under the return to tougher rules, venues will have new caps on patrons of 300, and group bookings will be capped at 10 – all of whom must remain seated.
Funerals and places of worship will be capped at 100 people, while weddings and corporate events can have no more than 150, also seated.
Mandatory sign-ins and prepared COVID-safe plans will also be required. However, caps for private indoor and outdoor gatherings in NSW remain at 20.
On Thursday, Queensland added the Sydney suburb of Fairfield, in the city’s south-west, to its list of COVID-19 hotspots. It joins Liverpool, Campbelltown and all of Victoria.
Residents of hotspot areas, or anyone who has visited one, are banned from entering Queensland.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner also declared Port Stephens, north of Newcastle, a coronavirus hotspot on Thursday. Anyone who has been there in the past 14 days must do two weeks of supervised quarantine upon arrival in the NT at their own cost, or return home.
NSW reported seven new COVID cases on Thursday. Six were related to the Thai Rock restaurant cluster in Wetherill Park.
Three Catholic schools – Cerdon College in Merrrylands, Mary Immaculate Catholic Primary School in Bossley Park and Freeman Catholic College at Bonnyrigg Heights School – have been closed for cleaning after four cases in the restaurant outbreak were linked to them.
NSW Health has also ordered health workers in all public hospitals to wear masks if they are within 1.5 metres of patients. Patients must also wear masks where possible.
Sit down: Queensland’s orders
After three weeks of being allowed to stand and consume drinks in licensed venues, Queenslanders will be again forced to sit by the state’s chief health officer.
Jeanette Young said the decision was in response to the worsening outbreaks in Victoria and NSW.
“I’m reimposing that restriction [and] it starts today,” Dr Young said on Friday.
“It’s a requirement [to sit] and there will be compliance.”
Patrons will still be allowed to approach the bar to buy a drink but will then have to return to sitting at a table.
Queensland reported two new COVID-19 cases on Friday. Both are returned overseas travellers who tested positive in mandatory hotel quarantine.
SA extends border rules
South Australia is tightening some virus measures amid ongoing concerns about the Melbourne spike.
Premier Steven Marshall said the hard border closure with Victoria would be extended from midnight on Tuesday to also prevent any South Australians returning home.
At the same time, SA will impose a 50-person cap on family gatherings and a 100-person cap for weddings and funerals.
He said quarantine arrangements for people coming from NSW and the ACT will also remain as concerns also remain about three COVID-19 clusters.
“The entire nation is on high alert,” Mr Marshall said on Friday.
SA has had three new coronavirus cases this week. One, a man in his 40s, is a wharf worker who went to Melbourne as an essential traveller.