“As we do with any authority, we will fully cooperate with this investigation,” Mr Kairouz told The Sunday Age.
“Animal welfare is the highest priority in our business along with the health and safety of our staff. We have recently been audited by an independent, industry accredited animal welfare body and have passed all requirements for industry best practice.”
Australia recorded just 20 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday. While the Cedar Meats cluster is Victoria’s biggest so far, none of the 75 cases have been hospitalised so far.
Abattoirs have become a hotspot for COVID-19 overseas. In the United States almost 5000 meat workers – about 4 per cent of the industry’s workforce – have contracted the virus, according to the Centre for Disease Control.
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton this week said abattoirs were “intrinsically difficult” to manage but backed measures taken by Cedar Meats.
“[There are] people who are on a working line who need to be in close contact, the personal protective equipment they wear is hot in laborious conditions,” Professor Sutton said.
“But the facility, as I understand, had taken to screening for symptoms in their workforce, spacing to the fullest extent they could … [and] twice daily disinfection.”
Questions have been raised this week over when health authorities contacted Cedar Meats about the positives cases and over the government’s decision not to initially name the abattoir, whose owner was a long-time member of the Labor Party.
Premier Daniel Andrews this week said Labor Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz is not related to Cedar Meats owner Tony Kairouz, but the know each other through Melbourne’s Lebanese community.
The SundayAge has confirmed that Ms Kairouz and Mr Kairouz’s wife, Laurette, are Facebook friends.
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Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien again called for an independent inquiry into the outbreak.
“The Cedar Meats cluster has now reached 75 yet the Premier refuses to answer why the identity of the business was kept secret for so long,” Mr O’Brien said.
“If Parliament was sitting we could question the Premier on this outbreak, but Daniel Andrews has shut the Parliament down.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt and Victorian Attorney General Jill Hennessy separately backed the government’s management of the outbreak again.
“I’ve got great confidence in the health machinery in this state,” Ms Hennessy said.
She added that the Victorian government’s senior coronavirus response team met on Saturday morning to discuss the relaxation of social restrictions, but no announcements would be made before Monday.
The government also announced $17.5 million funding for community legal aid on Saturday.
Shorna Moore, an executive from the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the peak body for community legal aid in Victoria, said she welcomed the funding, particularly because the coronavirus pandemic had increased demand for services.
“Right now, victims of family violence are isolated and at serious risk,” Ms Moore said.
“Renters need our help keeping a roof over their heads. People who have lost their jobs need our help to exercise their employment rights … this [funding] means problems aren’t left to snowball, and people can receive all the help they need, avoid crisis and get back on their feet.”
Michael is a reporter for The Age.
Richard Baker is a multi-award winning investigative reporter for The Age.