Australia has broken another coronavirus infection record, with six deaths and 549 more people contracting the virus by Monday – 532 in Victoria and the remaining 17 in NSW.
A newborn baby at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne was among four new cases linked to that site, forcing some staff and patients into self-quarantine.
Of the new cases confirmed on Monday, 154 were linked to known outbreaks and 378 were under investigation.
It’s hoped Victoria has reached the peak of its second wave – but doctors and nurses are bracing for difficult days ahead.
VicHealth chief executive Dr Sandro Demaio believes there could be more bad news before the lockdown and compulsory mask regulations begin to take effect.
“This is really one of the tough things about this virus – it will take at least two weeks to see whether we’ve made a clear difference from any major new measure we put in place,” the CEO of Victoria’s health promotion body told the ABC.
“We probably won’t see those cases come down to single digits, some experts are saying, (for) many, many weeks.”
Nursing home residents and staff are vulnerable
Five of the six deaths recorded in Victoria on Monday were aged-care home residents.
“The tragedy of COVID-19 is that we know with the number of new infections that we have seen, that there will be many further deaths in the days ahead,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said.
About one in 10 people infected in Victoria since April has been a nursing home resident or staff, representing more than 600 cases.
The federal government will on Tuesday continue working with Victorian authorities to transport coronavirus patients from nursing homes to hospitals.
The western suburbs of Melbourne has been particularly hard hit, with 84 cases linked to St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner and 82 cases linked to Estia Health in Ardeer and 53 cases linked to Glendale aged care facility in Werribee.
A major source of concern remains the movement of nursing home staff, as questions continue over what protection measures are in place.
A union survey of aged care workers found one in three aged-care workers report not having enough hand sanitiser and gloves.
Major win for aged-care workers
In a major change that could help bring down cases in aged-care homes, the Fair Work Commission has ruled staff can take paid leave if they have to self-isolate.
The commission’s ruling grants paid pandemic leave to staff working in residential aged care under the Aged Care Award, the Nurses Award and the Health Professionals Award.
The amendments will come into effect from Wednesday, and last for three months.
The entitlement extends to casual employees “engaged on a regular and systemic basis” and the payment would be based on their average earnings over the past six weeks.
- See the details on who can get paid sick leave here
Calls to extend the ruling to all frontline workers
The ruling comes after the commission’s April decision to grant paid pandemic leave to other sectors working under 99 different awards.
At the time, unions had argued the entitlements should be extended to aged care and healthcare workers.
The unions had said while the Victorian government’s $1500 and $300 Coronavirus Workers support payments were helping, they were not available to people receiving other government benefits, which applied to about 16 per cent of aged-care workers.
The push was rejected in April, but as hundreds of healthcare and aged-care workers in Victoria contracted the virus in recent weeks, the FWC gave the matter ”urgent” consideration.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) welcomed the ruling for “hero” workers but said it should include all frontline staff.
“Its an important step forward in what we need as a country to fix the hole we’ve got in our coronavirus defences,” ACTU Secretary Sally McManus told ABC.
She added: “What this decision shows is that there is a need for paid pandemic leave and while the economy is struggling, it should be government funded for all workers so no one is even considering having to go to work with mild symptoms just to pay the bills.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has repeatedly stated that his state’s coronavirus woes are being driven by people going to work while they are sick.
Clusters have continued to grow in essential industries like meatworks and distribution centres which often have casual and low-paid workforces.
On Monday, cases linked to the Somerville Retail Services abattoir in Tottenham grew to 95, while 69 people who have tested positive have been linked to the Bertocchi Smallgoods outbreak in the same suburb.
Infections are also rising in workplaces outside of the lockdown zone, including at The Australian Lamb Company in Colac, in the state’s southwest, where 47 people have tested positive so far. An outbreak at the Don KR Smallgoods in Castlemaine has grown to six, prompting a testing blitz on more than 1000 workers.
Warnings for Sydney diners
Two new cases of COVID-19 have forced the closure of a popular inner-city Sydney restaurant and two pubs, with anyone who attended the venues urged to immediately isolate.
NSW Health on Monday night confirmed a staff member at The Apollo in Potts Point tested positive for the virus.
They urged anyone who visited the Greek restaurant between Thursday July 23 and Saturday July 25 to self-isolate until 14 days after their visit.
The department is also encouraging anyone who lives in or has visited Potts Point in the past two weeks to get tested if they have symptoms.
Meanwhile, a person who attended two pubs in Sydney’s southwest while infectious has now tested positive.
NSW Health is urging staff and visitors to Mounties in Mount Prichard on July 24 and 25, and Prichard’s Hotel in the same suburb on July 23, to isolate for 14 days and get tested if they have any symptoms.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said her state was on “high alert”.
Five people are in intensive care in NSW.
Other states are keeping close watch on the NSW and Victorian outbreaks, and have flagged the possibility of more restrictions to stop a second wave infections.
From midnight Tuesday, South Australians will not be allowed to return home from Victoria while caps will be re-imposed on family gatherings, funerals and weddings.
A committee will also look at the quarantine arrangements for people coming from NSW and the ACT but is unlikely to change the current arrangements which require travellers to self-isolate for 14 days.
Tasmania will allow travellers from South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. A decision will also be made on including NSW, Queensland and ACT.
“It’s fair to say we’re increasingly concerned about what we’re seeing in Victoria – more than 100 outbreaks at the same time,” SA Premier Steven Marshall said on Monday.
“If we have to increase those restrictions further, that’s exactly and precisely what we’ll do.”