As Scott Morrison and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews place the blame on each other for aged care outbreaks of COVID-19, the Prime Minister insists there is room for optimism that the crisis is stabilising.
Mr Morrison put his mouth where his hopes are by saying he is confident most aged care homes devastated by coronavirus outbreaks are becoming increasingly stable.
But Mr Morrison concedes a handful of Melbourne centres on an “acute watch list” remain in a fragile position.
Victoria recorded 12 more deaths on Wednesday – all of them linked to aged care – taking the national toll to 450.
Mr Morrison said staffing issues and the disposal of personal protective equipment were a daily struggle.
“It’s a challenging environment and there’s a mixture of issues in each and every facility and they have to be treated on a case-by-case basis,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
More than 750 aged care residents have been transferred to private hospitals.
But the Prime Minister said this was not an enduring solution.
“The answer is not just to line up a team of ambulances outside of an aged care facility,” he said.
Doctors are calling for an urgent risk assessment of all nursing homes to prevent outbreaks seen in Victorian happening across the country.
The Australian Medical Association said aged care was in crisis long before the pandemic began and failures of governance and care had only been amplified by COVID-19.
“Hundreds of elderly Australians have died needlessly and without family by their side,” AMA president Omar Khorshid said.
“Had our calls and recommendations over the past decade been heeded and implemented, we would not be facing the crisis to the extent we are currently seeing in aged care in Victoria.”
Victorian council elections
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Victoria’s council elections will go ahead as planned with the blessing of chief health officer Brett Sutton.
Local Government Minister Shaun Leane said the elections scheduled for October 24 would proceed as planned.
“This decision was not made lightly and is based on the best public health advice available,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Mr Leane consulted with the Victorian government solicitor’s office and chief health officer when making the call.
Mr Sutton concluded October represented a “substantially lower” risk than at present and there weren’t compelling health grounds to delay the elections, the minister said.
The Victorian Liberals and Greens both welcomed the decision not to push back the date but the Municipal Association of Victoria said the October elections would be “seriously compromised”.
“Minister Leane’s announcement today means that the elections will not have the quality and diversity of candidates that Victoria deserves,” MAV president Cr Coral Ross said in a statement.
Ms Ross said stage four and three lockdown restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria, due to remain in place until September 13, would make campaigning difficult and costly.
But, from a health perspective, Mr Sutton is satisfied with the Victorian Electoral Commission’s COVIDSafe plan.
Electoral Commissioner Warwick Gately said measures included increased distancing in election offices, limiting face-to-face contact, enforcing mandated mask-wearing and moving operational activity online whenever possible.
Counter service for replacement ballot packs and unenrolled votes will be removed but voters can still hand-deliver completed papers to election offices if they miss mail collection times.
All campaign information sessions for prospective candidates have been moved online.
It’s expected vote counting will be hampered by social distancing requirements, delaying the declaration of results for some elections by at least a week to November 13.
South Australia tightens up some more
There’s still a no-go ban for Victorians keen to visit South Australia, which says border restrictions will be loosened as soon as possible – but that day now seems even further in the future.
New measures will be imposed from Friday, preventing even people living in close border communities from crossing into SA or from leaving South Australia and then returning.
Only people with properties that straddle the state line and students in years 11 and 12 will get exemptions, although others can apply for essential traveller status, including those with medical issues.
“I absolutely appreciate that it is really hard for people at the moment,” Professor Nicola Spurrier said.
“It will be a wonderful day when we can release that border and we will do that absolutely as soon as we possibly can.”
Prof Spurrier said SA Health was working on establishing another hotel quarantine facility in Mt Gambier, in the state’s southeast, which could be used to isolate people coming from Victoria once restrictions were eased.
It could also help with about 150 Victorian university students looking to return to their studies in Adelaide.
She said officials were looking at ways to get those students back and those who might drive could be accommodated at the Mt Gambier centre.
Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said border restrictions were constantly being reviewed and, while the situation in Victoria had improved, people should prepare for the tighter measures coming into force.
“It is no understatement to say that we are monitoring, on a daily basis, what is happening in Victoria,” he said.
“But people should prepare for that direction to be implemented on Friday.
“As much as we try to accommodate those people who live in cross-border communities, at this point in time, with the activity of coronavirus in regional Victoria, the decision was made on health advice that this was a step that we needed to take.
“We’ve had to draw a line somewhere and we used the SA-Victoria border.”
Mr Stevens said there was no specific trigger for easing restrictions with a number of factors involved, including the spread of virus cases in regional districts.
There were no new virus cases reported in SA on Wednesday, with the total since the pandemic remaining on 462. Of those only six are still considered active.
Further to the west in Perth, fur new coronavirus cases, all related to a family who returned from overseas, have been reported in Western Australia.
All four are in hotel quarantine and the state now has nine active cases, the Department of Health said on Wednesday.
It comes as authorities move to tighten monitoring of high-risk quarantine cases after several audacious breaches.
South Australian women Isata Jalloh, 19, and Banchi Techanna, 22, faced Perth Magistrates Court on Tuesday accused of sneaking out of quarantine to attend a party.
Police say the women arrived in Perth on a flight from Adelaide on Monday night intending to holiday and visit family.
They were refused entry and directed to quarantine at the Novotel Hotel in Perth until return flights could be arranged.
It’s alleged the women, who had not applied to enter the state, left the hotel early on Tuesday and caught a taxi to a unit block in Coolbellup.
They have been remanded in custody and will face court again on Thursday.
A 31-year-old Perth man faced court earlier this week accused of escaping from hotel quarantine using a ladder left by an accomplice.
“Obviously these are two very audacious attempts to get around our hotel quarantine restrictions and we continue to learn from these experiences,” Health Minister Roger Cook said on Wednesday.
“We’re constantly reviewing the hotel quarantine arrangements.”
Authorities were also left frustrated by a breach of the AFL’s quarantine hub arrangements.
Sydney player Elijah Taylor has been banned from playing again this year after his partner last week snuck into the team’s biosecurity bubble at a Perth hotel.
Taylor, 19, and his partner will both receive infringement notices from WA Police.
Opposition spokesman Zak Kirkup said the recent breaches highlighted WA’s potential vulnerability to a second wave of infection.
The government has continued to refuse calls by the Liberal opposition for an independent review of the state’s pandemic handling.
Mr Cook said most people were doing the right thing, but backed plans to ensure police officers were present at hotels in “high-risk” cases, where people had been denied entry or were deemed to be a threat of leaving quarantine.
He confirmed Premier Mark McGowan had written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison asking for more Australian Defence Force assistance if it was possible.
“We want assistance in our hotels, on our borders, in the airports,” he said.
“ADF can play an important role, and it’s important that the Commonwealth share the responsibility with our police and health personnel.”
Mr McGowan said in parliament WA had requested an additional 134 ADF officers, including 20 to be trained in COVID-19 contact tracing and a doubling of the 40 personnel already supporting state authorities in quarantine hotels.