Victoria has conducted its biggest blitz of community testing for the coronavirus since the outbreak began, with staff at a Melbourne meat works at the centre of a surge in new cases.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said 19 people tested positive at the abattoir at the weekend, bringing to 34 the number of cases from the works.
Two more positive tests came from returning travellers from overseas. They are in quarantine.
Victorian authorities are investigating one other suspected case.
The state has 1406 cases in total.
Cedar Meats confirmed the outbreak at its Brooklyn factory in Melbourne’s west, after Victorian authorities declined to name the plant.
In a statement, general manager Tony Kairouz said “a number of our employees have tested positive to the coronavirus”.
“The welfare and safety of our staff, visitors, suppliers, and customers is our highest priority. All workers are self-quarantining and we are working closely with Victorian health authorities,” the statement provided to Melbourne radio station 3AW said.
“All meat processed at our facilities is processed in accordance with Australian standards for food safety. Our customers can be confident the meat processed is safe to eat.”
Across Australia, there have been 6801 confirmed cases and 96 people have died. The death of a 15th resident at the Newmarch House aged-care home in western Sydney was reported on Monday.
Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said the majority of the positive workers at Cedar Meats were asymptomatic.
“All of them will have been in quarantine at the time they’ve been identified, so it’s not a risk to the general community and it’s not going to get out of control,” he said on Monday.
Professor Sutton said the abattoir had been closed, and testing of staff would continue.
Victoria conducted 13,000 tests on Sunday alone at 90 sites. The state has tested 56,000 people since starting a blitz a week ago after opening up testing to the wider community.
“More than we’ve seen on a single day in any part of the country throughout this whole pandemic,” Mr Andrews said on Monday.
“I can’t emphasise enough how pleased, how proud and how grateful I am.”
“Not only have Victorians been doing their best to protect each other by following the rules and staying home, they’ve also been stepping up to get themselves tested.
The blitz, in its second week, is being conducted by nurses, doctors and pathology collection staff via a combination of drive-through and walk-up clinics.
Mobile screening clinics have also set up on construction sites while retailers have also joined the fight with drive-up testing sites in their carparks.
“With every test we’re getting vital information, and that puts us in a better position to consider slowly easing some of the restrictions that we have in place,” Mr Andrews said.
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos urged people to continue to get tested even if they had only mild symptoms.
“Even if you have mild symptoms – like a runny nose or scratchy throat – please get yourself down to one of our 90 sites and take a test.”
Professor Sutton added: “The more testing we do, the more we know about the virus in the community and how much we are slowing its spread – this will help us make decisions about next steps.”
The national cabinet will meet twice this week. Victoria’s state of emergency finishes on May 11, the earliest date the government will consider relaxing social distancing restrictions.
It aims to complete 100,000 virus tests before next Monday to help in making that decision.
Meanwhile, Melbourne Water will be at the forefront of a coronavirus sewage sampling project aiming to help inform policy makers and health authorities about potential clusters of people infected.
On Sunday, the government confirmed a teacher at Meadow Glen primary school in Epping had coronavirus. The school will be shut until Wednesday.