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Local News - Victoria

COVID-19 fears rise in disability homes after two deaths


Across the state about 6500 people live in disability accommodation, mostly in homes with between three and five occupants.

Disability Minister Luke Donnellan confirmed late on Monday that two people linked to disability residential services had died since the pandemic began.

El Gibbs, from People with Disability Australia, said all people in care were at risk of contracting COVID-19, including those in disability care, aged care or prisons.

“This is exactly what we feared was going to happen and what we had been warning about since March,” Ms Gibbs said.

Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability chief executive Kevin Stone called on the Morrison and Andrews governments to stop staff working across multiple homes.

“I don’t want to panic people because [the numbers] are still quite low, but we can’t afford to take any chances here,” he said.

Twenty residents and 59 staff in residential disability accommodation have tested positive to coronavirus.

Twenty residents and 59 staff in residential disability accommodation have tested positive to coronavirus. Credit:Randy Faris/Fuse

Mr Stone and Ms Gibbs want more transparency on which individual sites have been impacted and when and where deaths are occurring.

This week the state government announced in-home testing would be available for those who need it, including people with disabilities, older Victorians and carers.

On Tuesday, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Stuart Robert confirmed four major disability providers would offer extra support for people living in residential care.

“These providers are able to offer advice, support staff and isolation accommodation for smaller organisations to access,” Mr Robert said.

Aspen Medical will now provide clinical first response for outbreaks and around 7000 high-risk NDIS participants will also be “proactively” checked on.

Aruma Disability Services has 16 active cases of COVID-19 at its homes, including 11 staff and four clients across four properties.

“Many of these are likely to be cleared in the coming days. We are awaiting test results and expecting them any time now,” a spokeswoman said.

Bill Shorten, the federal Labor spokesman for the NDIS, called on Mr Robert to provide detailed information about contagion rates, locations and deaths for people with a disability during COVID-19.

Mr Shorten said many disability care workers needed better training to care for residents in the pandemic.

The residential disability care workforce was highly casualised, he said, and very similar to aged care, with some workers employed across both sectors.

A state government spokeswoman said disability services were run through the Commonwealth and National Disability Insurance Agency, but Victoria was working with them to ensure the safety of clients and staff in supported accommodation.

She said the state government had set up a disability rapid response outbreak team and was helping the Commonwealth to distribute PPE.

“All disability support workers are required to wear a single use surgical mask when at work at all times – this applies across the whole of Victoria and we have distributed over 257,850 masks from our Victorian stockpile to service providers,” she said.

The body representing residential disability care homes, National Disability Services, has flagged concerns about looming delays in workers accessing protective gear through NDIS plans.

The group’s chief executive David Moody said care providers needed to get NDIS participants to consent to accessing funding to pay for their protective equipment, which could cause significant delays.

“Providers have expressed concerns to us about having to negotiate for participants to provide funding from their plans to pay for workers PPE,” he said.

Campaign group Every Australian Counts, which lobbied for the introduction of the NDIS, warned residents living in residential group homes were exposed to some of the same risks as people living in aged care.

The group’s campaign director, Kirsten Deane, said many people with disabilities and their families already led “precariously balanced” lives and the pandemic had thrown them into even greater turmoil.

“There’s just this incredible level of anxiety and stress,” Ms Deane said.

A survey of disability support workers by the University of Melbourne found that 23 per cent had not been adequately trained on infection controls.

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State government offers reprieve over shopping shortfall fears


The Victorian government has taken action over fears of a shopping supply shortfall, offering a reprieve to keep supermarkets operating at full capacity.

The order from Premier Daniel Andrews to warehouses to cut their workforce by 33 per cent has caused panic among business chiefs who fear they will not be able to cope with consumer demand.

But Mr Andrews has now extended the timeline until Sunday night, with the new guidelines explaining “the number of workers can be reduced through any part of the supermarket business”, according to The Herald Sun.

The major supermarket chains will, in turn, ask more support staff to work from home and suspend stocktake activity, as well as asking the most vulnerable store workers to stay home with full pay.

It comes after a major supermarket warned about food shortages triggering panic buying across Australia, with reports shoppers could soon face renewed purchasing restrictions amid fears Victoria’s stage four coronavirus lockdown will severely disrupt supply chains.

One of the nation’s biggest supermarket operators issued a warning to Prime Minister Scott Morrison through the Supermarkets Taskforce, a group of retailers who joined together to manage food shortages as a result of the pandemic.

According to The Australian, the COVID-19 Commission advisory board had been urged to take it up with the Prime Minister amid concerns retailers interstate have been blindsided by the scale of the Victorian shutdown, and shortages of meat and other good could flow through to other states.

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NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said today that Sydney was now being “tested” by the harsh lockdown in Melbourne which was likely to have flow on effects.

“I think a lot of our food supplies do emanate from Victoria, but, again, there’s a degree of each government having to be fleet-of-foot, if you like, and trying to respond to whatever problems come up,” he said on ABC News Breakfast Thursday morning.

“So in regard to our food supply, we’re now being tested on that, but we’ll find ways around it. The governments around the country will find ways around it. We’ll work together to make sure food supplies still get through.”

Mr Andrews has allowed the majority of meatworks, seafood processing facilities and fruit and vegetable wholesalers to remain open but at a reduced capacity that will impact supply.

Meatworks in particular have been the site of multiple COVID-19 outbreaks as they have been across the world.

“It is a proportionate response to the risk that that industry poses,” Mr Andrews said on Monday.

“I can’t guarantee that every single product at exactly the volumes that you might like to buy will be there, but there will be enough for people to get what they need, not necessarily what they want, but what they need,” he said.

The Australian Meat Industry Council has raised concerns that any reduction in operations will naturally flow through to suppliers.

“Overall it would move towards a 30 per cent reduction, give or take, in supply chain production, which would in turn lead to a reduction of saleable meat within the Victorian community, as well as a reduction in the opportunity for product to also be exported around the world,” meat industry council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said.

– with Samantha Maiden



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Hotel quarantine inquiry postponed until August 17 over COVID-19 fears


The much-anticipated inquiry into the Victorian Government’s bungled hotel quarantine program will be postponed due to Melbourne’s stage-four lockdown.

Three key medical and scientific witnesses were set to give evidence at 10am on Thursday, but Judge Jennifer Coate announced proceedings would be delayed until August 17.

“My first consideration is the safety of all those working with us and supporting us,” she announced at an emergency meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

“I am acutely aware of the community’s need to have a thorough understanding of what has happened with hotel quarantine and the ramifications it has had on all of us.”

Ms Coate said it would require significant technological work to host tomorrow’s inquiry at 10am, but did not wish to rush the process.

“I do not want an inquiry of such importance and magnitude to suffer from a less thorough process,” she said.

The inquiry’s findings will be handed down six weeks later after Premier Daniel Andrews agreed to the judge’s proposed extension.

Ms Coate said more than 166,000 documents from government departments and private entities had been gathered so far.

The State Government has been able to dodge questions about hotel quarantine, saying the matter is being probed by a judicial inquiry and is therefore inappropriate to provide commentary.

But the Premier was confident the judicial inquiry would deliver the right answers.

“I am confident that process will give us the answers that we are each entitled to,” he said.

“What has gone here is completely unacceptable to me and unacceptable to all of us but the best thing to do is to have that proper understanding of exactly what has gone on.”

The inquiry was launched by the State Government after it was revealed protocol breaches by security guards overseeing hotel quarantine had led to outbreaks in Victoria.

Retired judge Jennifer Coate is overseeing the inquiry, with senior assisting counsel Tony Neal.

At the first hearing on July 20, the inquiry heard there was evidence that many if not all of the state’s cases could be linked to the hotel outbreaks.

Victoria recorded 725 cases on Thursday, eclipsing the state’s deadliest daily total of 723 infections last week.



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Nick Kyrgios says he won’t play at the US Open over COVID-19 fears, warns players not to be selfish


Australia’s Nick Kyrgios has ruled out playing in this year’s US Open, saying he is making his decision for “my Aussies”, and for the people who have lost their lives in the COVID-19 pandemic.

He becomes the second high-profile Australian tennis player to announce he will be staying away from the New York-based tournament, following this week’s statement by women’s world number one Ash Barty.

The tournament is scheduled to start on August 31 — it will be held at its usual home in Flushing Meadows, Queens but will be played without fans to limit the risk of spreading of the virus.

Kyrgios posted a video on Sunday, where he read from a statement.

“I will not be playing this year at the US Open,” he said.

“It hurts me at my core not to be out there, competing in one of the sport’s greatest arenas, Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s my decision.”

A tennis player stands with his head down and his fist in front of his face after losing a point.
Nick Kyrgios says he is sitting out the US Open for Australians, and for the Americans who have died from COVID-19.(AP: Adam Hunger)

Uncertainty remains around the tournament that is usually the last major of the year.

The tennis world has been largely shut down for months in response to the pandemic, and players have expressed concerns over safety.

While tournaments are just about to restart, there have been a number of exhibition events held — the most notorious being the ADRIA Cup, a tournament organised by world number one Novak Djokovic, held in a number of countries, but which featured poor social distancing.

Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric later tested positive. Kyrgios described the decision to go ahead with the exhibition as “boneheaded”, saying people had to stick to the protocols.

Kyrgios has also been drawn into online exchanges with Coric and former world number one Boris Becker over their approach to the virus.

“Dear tennis, let’s take a breath here and remember what’s important, which is health and safety as a community,” he said in the video.

The Canberra native said he had no problem with the USTA putting on the US Open, and that if players wanted to go, that was up to them.

“So long as everyone acts appropriately, and acts safely,” he said.

“No-one wants people to keep their jobs more than me. I’m speaking for the guy who works in the restaurant, the cleaners, the locker room attendants.

“These are the people that need their jobs back the most and fair play to them.”

Kyrgios called on players to act in each other’s best interests and work together.

“That’s just so selfish. Think of all the other people for once.



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Fears PPE not always effective on healthcare workers


Victoria’s chief health officer says personal protective equipment is not always a guarantee when keeping frontline healthcare workers free of the deadly coronavirus.

It comes after Victoria recorded 627 new infections on Friday – the state’s second highest daily surge.

At least 1030 healthcare workers are infected.

Professor Brett Sutton said health authorities needed to be open to the harsh reality that personal protective equipment (PPE) “may not always work in some circumstances”.

“There is always a review to understand what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

“But to say these healthcare workers are contracting the virus outside the workplace is definitely not the case.”

POSITIVE CASES NOT AT HOME

One in four people who had tested positive for coronavirus were not at home on Thursday, when the state recorded it’s deadliest daily surge with 723 infections.

Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters 130 confirmed COVID-19 cases did not answer their door upon home checks from ADF personnel and Health Department officers.

Mr Andrews said the alarming development was “unacceptable”.

“It’s simply unacceptable to have this virus and not be at home,” he said.

“Some may be out getting some fresh air but this number goes well and truly beyond anything like that. If you are positive the only place you should be is at home.”

INFECTIONS AT MELBOURNE TOWER

A dozen COVID-19 infections have emerged at a Melbourne high-rise tower, with close to 20 casual construction workers identified as close contacts.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) notified construction company Multiplex of 12 COVID-19 cases at the Multiplex Premier Apartments site at 134-160 Spencer St, Melbourne.

The site has been immediately shut down for a full, hospital-grade clean.

The $315 million apartment and hotel project, dubbed by some as the Beyonce tower, is a 79-storey mix-use skyscraper under construction.

Works at the high-rise are set to be completed this year.

All workers identified as being in close and casual contact with the confirmed cases were immediately sent home and ordered to get tested and to self-isolate until they received test results.

In a statement, the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union said it prioritised the health of its workers.

“The health and safety of our members is of the utmost priority and we strongly condemn any behaviour that does not follow the appropriate measures put in place to protect our workers and the wider community,” the union said.

“We implore all members and construction workers to continue following all measures and guidelines put in place for their safety, including strict hygiene practices, social distancing, wearing of masks and separation of workers on meal breaks as outlined by the Premier’s office and the DHHS.”

anthony.piovesan@news.com.au



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Ash Barty says she will not play in this year’s US Open, amid travel fears during the coronavirus pandemic


World women’s number one Ash Barty has withdrawn from the US Open in a massive blow to the grand slam tournament in New York.

Not comfortable about travelling during the coronavirus pandemic, Barty is the biggest tennis name yet to opt out of the August 31 — September 13 major because of the global health crisis.

“My team and I have decided that we won’t be travelling to the US and [Cincinnati Masters] and the US Open this year,” Barty said in a statement on Thursday.

“I love both events so it was a difficult decision but there are still significant risks involved due to COVID-19 and I don’t feel comfortable putting my team and I in that position.

“I wish the USTA all the best for the tournaments and I look forward to being back in the US next year.

“I will make my decision on the French Open and the surrounding WTA European tournaments in the coming weeks.”

Sam Stosur will also reportedly miss the tournament at Flushing Meadows.

The Cincinnati Masters, which is held annually, has been moved to New York this year and is set to start in mid-August.

No Australian women’s players are entered for the leadup event, although Alex de Minaur, Nick Kyrgios and John Millman are down for the men’s tournament.

The US Open will be held in its usual home in Flushing Meadows, Queens but will be played without fans in attendance to limit the risk of spreading of the virus.

Deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 150,000 in the United States on Wednesday, more than any other country and nearly a quarter of the world’s total.

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45 workers walk off over covid outbreak fears


Workers at a Victorian abattoir walked off the job on Tuesday to protest against poor working conditions amid an outbreak at the plant, where more than 70 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed.

The action was given the green light by the United Workers Union, which covers the 150 cold storage staff at JBS, and forced the plant to close for hours as union workers negotiated with management.

The JBS site in Brooklyn has had 71 positive coronavirus diagnoses. The abattoir was forced to close just over two weeks ago by the Department of Health and only reopened this week.

Staff at JBS had complained of inadequate social distancing measures, with afternoon and day shift staff forced to cross oaths with no distancing, workers being made to share balaclavas, and employees forced to draw from their annual leave or accept no pay during periods of isolation, Farm Online reported.

United Workers Union Victorian branch secretary Susie Alison said communication levels between employees and staff had been inadequate and done little to alleviate any concern.

“These workers have been battling through this crisis with almost no support,” she said.

“They don‘t want to have gone through all that only to walk back onto the floor and catch the virus.”

The union asked for extra paid leave for the workforce, to make up for what had been lost, supply of appropriate masks, the regular laundering of cloth masks and other PPE, increased cleaning in high traffic and high-touch areas, coronavirus screenings for current and new employees, and social distancing measures to be implemented, along with separation between the day and afternoon shift staff.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon, the United Workers Union announced employees had won their fight, and would receive a 30 minute separation between the two shifts to avoid a congested changeover period, a full safety briefing for workers when they start and detailed information on the company’s cleaning regime, laundry of share items and provision of PPE.

The Victorian meat industry has become a large component of the state’s coronavirus outbreak.

In addition to the 71 cases at JBS, Somerville Retail Services abattoir in Tottenham has recorded 95 coronavirus cases.

Colac’s Australian Lamb Company in the state’s southwest has recorded 47, as has Bertocchi Smallgoods in Thomastown. At Diamond Valley Pork in Laverton there are eight cases, and a Don KR in Castlemaine, there are six.





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Fears mount as aged care deaths rise


St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner in Melbourne’s north was the worst outbreak, with 84 cases among residents and staff.

Late on Monday night, the federal government’s aged care regulator threatened to revoke the licence of the aged care facility.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has issued St Basil’s with a Notice to Agree, citing concerns about the serious impact of the outbreak on the residents and staff, and the aged care centre’s response.

Under the notice, St Basil’s must not admit any new residents until it can demonstrate to the Commission’s satisfaction that the “serious risk” to care recipients has been effectively addressed.

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It must also appoint an independent adviser until St Basil’s is declared free of all positive cases of COVID-19 and is declared safe by the Victorian Government’s Public Health Unit.

Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson said the commission had developed concerns about the serious impact of the outbreak on the residents and staff, and the response of the approved provider.

“These concerns included ongoing challenges apparent in implementing an effective outbreak response in a timely manner, and in fulfilling responsibilities to provide timely communication relating to the care of individual residents,” Ms Anderson said.

St Basil’s said in a statement on Monday night that it had immediately implemented the requirements of the Notice to Agree.

The statement said St Basil’s was pleased to see many of its COVID-19 infected residents at the Fawkner facility were being transferred to hospital.

“We await the test results of our employees and as soon as they are cleared we are eager to return and continue in our mission of caring for our residents.”

Almost as bad at st Basil’s was Epping Gardens, where 77 people have contracted the virus.

Luci Larubina’s 85-year-old mother, Elsa, is in the home and has twice tested negative to coronavirus.

But Ms Larubina is furious over the lack of communication, saying she had been unable to get any real information on her mother for days.

“I have been trying to ring them from Friday night, and they don’t pick up their phones,” she said.

Her mother has dementia, and moved into Epping Gardens Aged Care home just two weeks ago – when there were no positive coronavirus cases.

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Two cases were identified last week, and the virus has since raged through the centre.

On Monday, after news of the rapid spread, Ms Larubina said she had had enough of waiting on the phone.

“I bolted down there to see what’s going on,” she said after managing to get some information about her mother.

The federal opposition released new figures on Monday from one of the first aged care outbreaks during the pandemic, western Sydney’s Newmarch House where 19 residents died.

Julie Collins, the federal opposition’s spokeswoman on aged care, said there were clear parallels between the lack of communication with families at Newmarch House in Sydney in April and what was unfolding in Melbourne.

Figures obtained from a Senate select committee on COVID-19 show the federal government provided only one social worker to work with families, some of whom did not learn of their relative’s death until days later.

Ms Collins said the federal government “must now step up and ensure the families … are provided with timely and correct advice about the status of outbreaks”.

Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the outbreaks in Victoria were “extremely concerning”, and that the situation inside homes where there were multiple cases was complex.”

He pointed to the Morrison government’s establishment of a Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, which will co-ordinate and expand resources to tackle the virus in homes.

The centre will bring together Commonwealth and state agencies at Victoria’s State Control Centre, he said.

“A highly experienced crisis communication team, supported by clinical staff, has commenced at St Basil’s to ensure that there is daily communication with every family specifically about their loved one,” he also said.

The body representing not-for-profit homes, Aged and Community Services Australia, wants any positive cases transferred immediately to hospitals as a way of tackling outbreaks.

“That gives the older person the best chance of survival and the best care, while allowing us to … protect what might be another 100 or more people living in the same space,” said Patricia Sparrow, the group’s chief executive.

Ms Sparrow said the vulnerability of residents in homes was so serious that unless immense resources were thrown into stopping outbreaks, “once it gets into aged care it can be disastrous – the scale of this is now so broad”.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, said on Monday that elderly residents who contracted coronavirus were at “significant risk of dying – where there are outbreaks in aged care the mortality rate is extremely high. We know that from European outbreaks in particular, where deaths in aged care made up almost half of all deaths.”

Professor Sutton offered one glimmer of hope, saying the government’s modelling indicated that Monday should be the peak of the state’s second wave.

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“Modelling, with our effective reproduction number that I have seen most recently, suggests that today should be the peak,” he said.

Victorian opposition leader Michael O’Brien also called for aged care centres to immediately transfer those who tested positive to coronavirus to hospitals.

“There is a real concern that this virus is getting through aged care in Victoria – that the measures that are being put in place are either not enough or have come too late,” he said.

“We can’t have a situation where people in aged care are left without showers for days and days on end. We need to make sure these people are looked after with dignity.”

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Fears homes could collapse during monster waves


Two homes at Wamberal on NSW’s Central Coast have partially crumbled into the sea with fears growing more could be lost.

Monster waves and high tides smashed the luxury homes along Ocean View Drive in Wamberal for the past few days, making a number of houses unstable.

The SES told residents on Saturday it would be cutting power and water to all properties long the road in a bid to keep locals safe.

Ocean View Drive resident Matilda Cahill told the ABC the decision from the SES was “frustrating”.

“We’ve had a couple of engineers here this morning saying the house is looking all right … but there’ll be no power, no water, they’re turning it off so we’ve got to go. We don’t have a house to go to, but we’ve got to go,” she said.

High tide returns at night, with residents likely facing a sleepless night as they wait to see if their home could also be lost.

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a number of dangerous surf warnings this week, reporting swell as high as 11.5m.



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Ravenhall remand centre prisoner tests positive sparking outbreak fears


The asymptomatic prisoner had not completed his 14-day quarantine when the positive test was returned.

He will remain isolated from other remandees in protective quarantine as a result.

“He will continue to be monitored and assessed while in isolation, and is being provided with a range of supports,” Corrections Victoria said in a statement.

The maximum security Melbourne Remand Centre.

The maximum security Melbourne Remand Centre.Credit:Justin McManus

Contact tracing has now begun with a small number of other prisoners and staff among those he has had contact with.

Staff and the prisoners in quarantine wear protective equipment when interacting with one another, Corrections said.

Authorities will also investigate contact he had with people before he was remanded, including the police who arrested him and any contact he had with the courts.

In May, three inmates at Ararat’s Hopkins Correctional Centre returned positive tests, but then subsequently tested negative twice.

With the new case, Melbourne criminal lawyer Felix Ralph said he was relieved the prisoner was in quarantine, but the situation was on a knife-edge.

“It’s the first test of the quarantine protocols,” he said.

“Once there’s a case out of quarantine, it’s all over red rover, you’ll have a massive cluster and it’ll affect the guards, everyone who has contact with anyone who goes in and out of the prisons.

“I’m hoping and praying that it stays in quarantine, that the quarantine is effective.”

Australian Law Alliance’s Greg Barns said the positive test renews their calls for the early release of some prisoners, including the elderly, the vulnerable, children and those jailed for minor crimes and due for imminent release to reduce the prison population and risk of spread.

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“Since that COVID-19 crisis broke, we have said that prisoners are at grave risk of becoming infected and that the poor sanitary conditions of prisons around Australia means COVID-19 could spread quickly if it enters a prison,” Mr Barns said.

“Non-violent prisoners, prisoners who are on remand simply because they have no home address, and vulnerable prisoners such as those over 65 should be released now. In fact, the Victorian government should have already done this.”

The UK, US and Europe have all implemented early release models.

As well as 14-day protective quarantine for new prisoners, face-to-face visits to Victorian prisons have been suspended in order to reduce the risk of transmission.

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