Local News - Victoria

Unions want face mask stocks ringfenced for frontline health workers

“If there is an expectation that general members of the public should be out there wearing face masks, then face masks should be supplied to frontline workers in healthcare,” Health Workers Union assistant secretary David Eden said.

Mr Andrews said the government would consult with union and industry groups “about whether the advice around face masks in the workplace needs to also be updated”.

Daniel Andrews and Brett Sutton on Friday.

Daniel Andrews and Brett Sutton on Friday.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Trades Hall representatives and government officials were due to meet on Friday afternoon to seek assurances that frontline workers would be guaranteed access to masks.

Trades Hall secretary Luke Hilakari said: “They need to work out a system, otherwise everyone’s going to rush to the shops and it will all be cleared out.”

Victoria’s policy switch brings the state into line with advice from the World Health Organisation and the US Centres for Disease Control, and follows increasingly urgent calls from local medical experts for masks to be part of the arsenal against COVID-19.

Until now, Victorians had been asked to wear a mask only if they were sick. The new stance is a recommendation, not a requirement, Mr Andrews said. No fines will be given out for non-compliance and the advice does not apply to people under the age of 18, nor in schools.

Mr Andrews said social distancing, hand-washing, and staying home if you are sick remain the cornerstones of infection control but masks – even homemade ones – were useful.

He said that masks would likely be a long-term recommendation in Victoria even after the current peak was flattened.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton stressed that wearing a mask “is no substitute for keeping the distance from people, isolating when you are unwell and getting tested”.

“In those settings where you might be in close proximity with others – public transport, taxis, and Uber, shopping for food, shopping for goods, essential goods, visiting your GP – these are really important times to wear a mask,” he said.

The government plans to order 2 million reusable face masks plus 1 million single-use masks, which will be distributed over the coming months – with vulnerable populations getting them first.

Until then Mr Andrews said homemade masks – even scarves – would be acceptable.

All Woolworths staff will be provided with masks but they will not be forced to wear them.

A spokesman for the supermarket chain said masks had been made available to all staff members since April.

The latest advice is to don a mask when out and about.

The latest advice is to don a mask when out and about.Credit:Paul Jeffers

“We’ve implemented a wide range of measures to help maintain social distancing in our stores,” he said.

“We will continue to make masks available and pass on the latest government advice to our Victorian team members.”

What changed?

Up until the past few weeks, the evidence that mask-wearing could cut infection rates had been “ambivalent”, Dr Sutton said, which is why the government had not made a recommendation on them up until now.

That began to change with the publication on June 1, of a meta-analysis in medical journal The Lancet showing that masks reduce transmission rates by about two-thirds.

That study led the Australian Medical Association to swing its support strongly behind masks, and Dr Sutton cited that study as one of the reasons for his change of heart.


As the growing scale of Victoria’s infection became clear this week, several experts made increasingly-urgent calls for an official masks policy.

Professor Sutton said that while teachers and students were not expected to wear masks they were free to do so if they wished.

Independent Education Union general secretary Debra James said school leaders had a responsibility to ensure clear hygiene and distancing protocols were in place.

“Schools should actively consider whether there are any situations in which the wearing of a mask is an appropriate additional measure,” she said.

Mark Murphy, principal of Whitefriars College in Donvale, said the boys’ school had a supply of masks on hand if any teachers wanted to wear one.

“We haven’t had any staff who’ve decided to wear them but we’ve got them there for them,” he said.

“We want everyone to feel safe and supported in whatever decision they make.

“If any students choose to wear a mask, we would be supportive of that.”

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Australian News

Health Minister Greg Hunt admits return of COVID-19 ‘greater than expected’

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has admitted the recent outbreak of coronavirus cases in Victoria is “on a scale that is greater than what was expected” and blamed “double standards” over Black Lives Matter protests for the state’s recent spike.

Mr Hunt appeared on Nine’s A Current Affair alongside host Tracy Grimshaw on Tuesday night along with an appearance on Chris Kenny’s The Kenny Report on Sky News , in which he pointed the finger largely at “breaches” in hotel quarantine.

RELATED: Melbourne hit with six-week lockdown

RELATED: Victoria’s cases could spread to other regions

RELATED: Border communities prepare for NSW entry ban

It came a day before stay-at-home orders and stage three restrictions were announced for metropolitan Melbourne in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. The lockdown will last for six weeks.

Meanwhile Victorians will be physically blocked from entering NSW as the state’s second wave of COVID-19 mounts.

“This is more significant than anybody had anticipated, the extent of the breach, the scope of the breach from hotel quarantine, and the impact has had a profound effect on Victorians,” Mr Hunt said on A Current Affair.

“What we are facing now, the response we had planned for, unfortunately, is on a scale that is greater than was expected.”

Mr Hunt warned that across the country, “it’s Victoria now. It could be any one. We’re going to have to live with this virus for as long while”.

Yet in his interview with Sky News, Mr Hunt coupled blame on hotel breaches with attitudes after the recent Black Lives Matters protests in the state.

“Coupled with the hotel quarantine breaches, there were a small number of people who felt that once the protests had occurred, then ‘gosh if it’s okay for ten-thousand people to get together, then surely it’s okay for ten,” the minister told host Chris Kenny.

“The sense of a double standard was quite strong, and there was a clear mood against that as a result”.

“The Prime Minister, myself … we were absolutely crystal clear about all of those public gatherings all around the country in relation to any thing that was breaching the standards.

“It was particularly risky in Victoria, because of the underlying community transmission which had not been fully suppressed here.

“It wasn’t in the position as some of the other states so it was an additional risk in terms of the messaging and the behaviours that some took from it as a result.”

Both appearances came with warnings that difficult and challenging times lie ahead for Victoria. Mr Hunt warned viewers the severe uptick in Victoria “show how dangerous and deadly the disease is and how contagious it is”.

Greater Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire will enter a six-week lockdown at midnight Wednesday, after the state recorded the biggest daily increase the state has seen throughout the whole pandemic.

Victorian health authorities confirmed another 191 cases were recorded overnight, bringing the state’s total to 2824 after 27 previous cases were reclassified.

Mr Hunt’s comments echoed Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton who said residents have got “six very difficult weeks ahead of us”.

“It’s going to be a difficult six weeks, but we’re going to fight,” Mr Hunt said.

“We’re in a stronger state than we were, but we have to confront a very significant outbreak.”

The blame for Victoria’s surprising rise lay mainly with hotel quarantine, according to Hunt, who said there had been “real and significant breaches” within the Victorian system.

He said those breaches have caused “major consequences, enormous consequences”.

“Certainly, a hotel quarantine breach is an avoidable breach. We have been able to successfully implement that in seven out of eight states and territories, they have done a remarkable job right around the country.

“The Victorian government has acknowledged that this was a breach that could and should have been prevented, (by announcing a) judicial inquiry. We are not here to criticise, our job is to support and make it clear that we’re providing additional military support.”

Mr Hunt told Sky News Prime Minister Scott Morrison had authorised an additional 260 defence force personnel to assist in general virus duties and up to 500 personnel to assist with border restrictions in NSW.

When pressed by Grimshaw as to why authorities waited until midnight on Wednesday to begin a lockdown process, Mr Hunt replied: “That is a question for the Victorian government. Our view is that these are unfortunately necessary actions.

“People need time to adjust and they need to be able to revise plans, and that is what’s occurring.”

Last week, new lockdown restrictions came into effect for 10 postcodes across Melbourne, with residents only allowed to leave their homes for work or school, care or care giving, exercise or buying food and essentials.

On Saturday two additional postcodes, 3031 and 3051, were also placed under lockdown.

Residents in nine public housing towers in the city have also been placed on a “hard lockdown” and ordered to stay in their homes.

In announcing the lockdown of metropolitan areas, Mr Andrews told reporters Victorians “have to be realistic about the circumstances that we confront”.

“That is why the public health team has advised me to reimpose stage three stay-at-home restrictions, staying at home except for the four reasons to leave, effective from midnight tomorrow night for a period of six weeks,” he said.

The “four reasons to leave” are to exercise – though it must be inside the metropolitan area; shop for food and other essential items; attend work or school (if they can’t do so from home); and medical or caregiving.

The lockdown applies to all of metropolitan Melbourne, as well as Mitchell Shire.

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Local News - Victoria

Politics lies at the heart of the Victorian Health Department’s problems

Victoria does not have this structure. Instead we have a full-time CHO responsible for public health and a part-time CMO who is solely responsible for hospital care – both are in separate sections of the Health Department and are answerable to separate non-medical administrators who then decide whether to accept the advice they are given and how it will be delivered.

Why Victoria persists with this crazy structure is partly historical, but mostly about control – but the end result can often be a disjointed health response. Victoria’s CHO job is now one of the least attractive in the nation – partly because the inherent structure to implement effective health programs is so shallow, and also because successive CHOs have become fair game for personal political attacks, such as the sacking of Dr Rob Hall in 2007, the hounding of Dr Rosemary Lester by the then Labor opposition, or the recent nitwit jibes by the Liberal member for Kew against Brett Sutton.

It is all seriously poor – attacking a public servant who has little right of reply. Furthermore, the Health Department has been squeezed over and over by Treasury, who seem to see it as nothing but a burden, not a centre of potential excellence. Like a choke hold that only gets released when there is barely a breath left – just enough funding is provided to survive but never thrive.

Yet despite this, some unique innovation has occurred – such as the birth of the national healthcare worker hand hygiene program, the excellence of the state’s reference laboratories, the integration of genomics into healthcare (currently important in tracking COVID-19 cases) and the nation-leading efforts to control superbugs. But the system is run so lean that when a major problem arises such as swine flu, thunderstorm asthma or now COVID-19, the cracks soon appear and Band-Aid measures are again quickly created and rolled out.

The Health Department “is what it is” for this pandemic but it’s time the Victorian Parliament made a bipartisan commitment to adequate funding, a sensible structural revamp and less political
interference, to allow the team to do the job they are trained to do in the future.

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Swimming out of the darkness: How cold-water swimming helps with mental health

Literally and metaphorically, Frog and Jessie are emerging from the fog.

With the closures of the local pools under lockdown, following the black line was no longer an option.

So, the friends began swimming outdoors.

Jessie and Frog have known each other for years, but the early morning open-water swims have drawn them closer.

In cold conditions, often blanketed in fog, they plunge into the Expedition Pass Reservoir, in Chewton in central Victoria, and feel mentally stronger and happier.

They are not the only ones; research has shown that cold-water immersion can reduce stress and improve mental health.

Jessie, with Frog in the background, adjusting her full-length wetsuit.
Jessie, who works as an artist, has found renewed meaning in life after taking up regular swimming at the ‘Res’.(ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky)

An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University, Rob Whitley said cold-water swimming has both biological and psychosocial benefits.

He said cold water not only stimulated the vagus nerve, one of 12 cranial nerves, but also increased circulation, which distributed nutrients and assisted the removal of toxins.

Dr Whitley said open-water swimming, which combined cold-water and exercise in a natural environment could be particularly beneficial as it could release endorphins and produce serotonin which increased happiness.

A shared madness and beauty

Jessie had swum ‘forever’, in pools, oceans and rivers, and as an adult became a lap swimmer.

Frog’s love of swimming also began at an early age and continued into his teenage years when he became one of the first lifeguards at his local pool in Scottsdale in Tasmania.

Jessie described it as an embodied experience made special by sharing.

“I think this kind of shared madness and shared beauty that keeps you moving – I think it would be quite different on my own,” Jessie said.

Frog's head and shoulders emerging form the watet with Jessie in the background.
Local swimming teacher Frog previously worked in theatre production before it suddenly ended.(ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky)

In the colder months there was the added challenge of overcoming the initial stress on the body.

“I need the stress to push through, to get going,” Frog said.

When thoughts of the past and future collided mid-stroke it was the coldness that often won.

They began swimming together last October and, as the warmer months passed, the friends gradually adjusted to the creeping cold.

Bathing suits were eventually replaced by full open water wetsuits, complete with neoprene caps and gloves.

Swimming out of the darkness

Jessie and Frog swimming
Open-water swimming has many benefits linked to improved mental health.(ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky)

Both had struggled with anxiety and depression and had glimpsed a darkness, when life was considered not worth living.

When Frog’s 20-year career as a technical director for live theatre was coming to an end, after years of leaving a young family at home to commute to Melbourne, he had a nervous breakdown.

Jessie, who works as an artist, was also acquainted with pain.

Six months after Jessie’s long-term relationship ended, a back injury from basketball resulted in a chronic pain and difficulty in standing at times.

“It’s just like everything, your whole life becomes revolved around pain,” Jessie said.

Trying to raise two children only added to the complexity.

Both were forced to reassess their lives.

Part of that was finding a good therapist and enjoying the process of self-discovery.

“It’s like watching the latest Netflix series, but I’ve got to wait two weeks for the next episode,” Frog laughed.

Allowing conversations to take place

As the lockdown restrictions eased, the swimming increased.

They now swim about three to four times a week, and more people have joined them.

“As the water’s been getting colder and colder, we’ve started getting more committed,” Jessie said.

The regularity of swimming in the cold with each other has fostered more intimate conversations.

Jessie feels stronger mentally now than in the past three years.

“I think that the connection with the place and the experience of what it does to your body and to your mind afterwards, and then sharing that with friends is the best part,” Jessie said.

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Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt warns Victoria could face further restrictions

Health Minister Greg Hunt is not ruling out further restrictions being imposed in Victoria as the army prepares to lock down the border with NSW at midnight.

Speaking on the Today show, Mr Hunt said rings to curb the spread of coronavirus were being extended to the borders because of the worrying levels of community transmission in Melbourne’s north and western suburbs.

Asked if a total lockdown of Victoria was possible, Mr Hunt replied: “I don’t think that anybody can rule out that if the disease continues to spread, there could be further restrictions.

“I think it is very important to be open and honest about that.”

RELATED: How quickly the pandemic can change

He said the outbreak in Victoria was “very serious”.

“To have the unprecedented closure of the border, not done in a hundred years, that is a sign that we have seven states and territories with effectively zero community transmission, one state, in particular, the north and the west of Melbourne, with a very serious outbreak,” Mr Hunt said.


Huge surge in new COVID-19 cases across Melbourne

On Friday, Premier Daniel Andrews issued a fresh warning to Victorians being complacent about coronavirus, threatening to lock down the entire state.

“You don’t have to live in a hot spot postcode to follow the rules, and if people don’t follow the rules then you will be living in a hotspot postcode because I will have no choice but to shut down more and more parts of our city and potentially our state,” Premier Andrews said.

Underlying cases of community transmission in Victoria, coupled with people ignoring social distancing as restrictions began to ease and hotel quarantine breaches, are behind the outbreak.

Victoria on Monday recorded its worse day with 127 new confirmed cases in 24 hours.

Victorians will be physically blocked from entering NSW as the state’s second wave of COVID-19 mounts.

A balloon in cases from community transmission while other states and territories remained at zero has prompted the closure of the Victorian-NSW border from midnight.

Border communities will be eligible for special travel exemptions.

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Australian News

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt warns Victoria could face further restrictions

Health Minister Greg Hunt is not ruling out further restrictions being imposed in Victoria as the army prepares to lock down the border with NSW.

Speaking on breakfast television, Mr Hunt said rings to curb the spread of coronavirus were being extended to the borders because of the worrying levels of community transmission in Melbourne’s north and western suburbs.

RELATED: How quickly the pandemic can change

“I don’t think that anybody can rule out that if the disease continues to spread, there could be further restrictions,” he told the Today show.

“I think it is very important to be open and honest about that.”

Underlying cases of community transmission in Victoria, coupled with people ignoring social distancing as restrictions began to ease and hotel quarantine breaches is behind the outbreak.

Victoria on Monday recorded its worse day with 127 new confirmed cases in 24 hours.

A balloon in cases from community transmission while other states and territories remained at zero has prompted the closure of the Victorian-NSW border from midnight.

Border communities will be eligible for special travel exemptions.

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Australian News

Athletes facing mental health challenges shouldn’t have to suffer in silence

While engaging in what some sports pundits still refer to as “the mental health debate” — as if there might be two sides to wellbeing — a familiar and comforting pantomime is played out.

Let’s say a star player is reported to have withdrawn from a team due to mental health reasons, or a promising youngster has retired prematurely because the anxiety of a high-pressure lifestyle has become unbearable.

Having been dragged into the 21st century and through a rudimentary course in Psychology 101, the “jockocracy” that dominates such discussions utters its Pavlovian response.

“Let’s all get behind her/him. We must be acutely aware of the mental health of athletes and put their wellbeing ahead of the game.”

Such self-consoling and blindingly obvious statements represent an advance on less enlightened times when mental illness was portrayed as a sign of weakness or, more likely, not mentioned at all.

But if the sympathy and support expressed for athletes who have spoken publicly about their psychological health are encouraging, surely the greater imperative is to recognise the conditions that might impede the wellbeing of athletes in real time and aid prevention, not just the cure.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has created an environment in which we are insisting athletes “harden up” and “earn their pay cheques” regardless of their pre-existing circumstances or the challenges they might face in order to help keep leagues running.

The most obvious example is the disdainful attitude toward footballers being moved away from their homes and into centralised hubs, including the evacuation of the NRL’s Warriors, and the Western Australian, South Australian and now Victorian AFL teams.

On the surface, spending a month at a five-star resort with your teammates seems like a holiday rather than an inconvenience. For the vast majority of players, this will be the case.

Yet shaming of players who might be reluctant to join a hub betrays a consequences-only mindset in which we console those who suffer mental health problems, yet fail to recognise the pitfalls that cause them as they occur.

Ex-Hawthorn champion and now media pundit Dermott Brereton barked that if a player decided not to join a hub he “wouldn’t trust him in the team again”.

To be fair, Brereton softened his comment somewhat by excluding those players who had a “pressing medical or family reason” from his one-size-fits-all character assessment.

A Richmond Tigers AFL player runs with the ball held in both hands at a training session in Melbourne.
Bachar Houli did not travel to Richmond’s Queensland hub because of family reasons.(AAP: Michael Dodge)

But this presumes that all players who might have a legitimate reason not to attend a hub are able to confide in teammates, let alone those in the media whose inflammatory remarks create a feeding frenzy among those fans who disparage players who might consider not joining a hub as “soft” and “overpaid”.

Do the Richmond players Bachar Houli — whose wife gave birth to their third child last week — and Shane Edwards — whose partner is expecting next month — who have chosen to stay home qualify?

What about a youngster with a pre-existing mental health condition that might be worsened by long days away from home?

‘Suck it up’ advice isn’t good enough

Comparisons have been made between domestic footballers and international cricketers who are on the road for months. Conveniently forgotten is that, in recent years, several cricketers have declined to join tours or returned home early due to enhance their mental health.

In such cases, there is now a greater understanding that — yes — “the athlete’s wellbeing comes first”. Hopefully such support makes players more comfortable about coming forward to discuss their distress and, if necessary, abandon a tour.

Yet it seems too difficult for some observers to take that next step and accept that an athlete might have an underlying problem that precludes him from doing something that is routine for others.

This means the balance of proof still lies with the athlete or his club to prove they are not just “playing the mental health card”. Our sympathy is conditional on a public expression — you might even call it an “admission” — of suffering that earns our absolution.

Consequently when South Sydney’s Latrell Mitchell was seen on camera crying in the sheds after his team had won an NRL match last month, there was more emphasis on his coach Wayne Bennett’s refusal to betray his players’ confidence than there was on Mitchell’s wellbeing.

Wayne Bennett is sitting next to Latrell Mitchell with his arm on his back as Mitchell leans forward.
Wayne Bennett consoled Latrell Michell when he broke down crying following an NRL match.(Supplied: Fox Sports)

It was not enough to see a player in obvious distress. We needed a reason to validate his emotional status.

Through the post-career revelations we hear on an almost weekly basis about footballing men of steel who sobbed in the sheds after every game; batsmen, who barely flinched in the face of the most hostile fast bowling, crumbling beneath the surface.

Yet we insist players get out of their comfort zone while ignoring that, for some, that zone is the place where they feel the most secure and where they perform at their best. Leaving it presents at the very least a tough challenge, perhaps even the very real risk of long-term harm.

Another accusation thrown at those who might even consider “shirking” a hub is that they should see what it is like in the “real world”; that there are plenty of people suffering to make ends meet.

But surely, rather than insisting well-paid athletes should also suffer in silence, we should be doing more to address the mental health of people in all walks of life.

Instead, too often, we tell them to suck it up and save our consolation for when the damage is done.

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Local News - Victoria

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton warned of hotel quarantine risks a month before first outbreak

Security guards and health workers at the Rydges on Swanston and the Stamford Plaza cited the same problems raised with Professor Sutton as the cause of coronavirus transmission at both hotels.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Friday moved to shake up the health bureaucracy amid the fallout from the hotels debacle, with deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck stripped of responsibility for emergency management but maintaining her seniority.

Victoria recorded 66 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday as outbreaks that began in the state’s hotel quarantine system spread in the northern and western suburbs, where more than 300,000 residents are subject to renewed stage three lockdown rules.

Speaking at a media conference on Friday, Premier Daniel Andrews and Health Minister Jenny Mikakos both said the first they knew of problems in hotel quarantine system was when the first infection at Rydges on Swanston was diagnosed on May 26.

Mr Andrews told reporters: “Infection control is an issue that has been brought to my attention, and I think it’s fair to say that … the first infection-control breach that led to a positive case [was the first he had heard].”

The offices of Professor Sutton and Mr Andrews refused to answer questions about the April briefing. Both cited a judicial inquiry as the reason they could not discuss whether their offices were told of emerging problems. Ms Mikakos’ office asked that questions be directed to the Premier’s office.

Mr Andrews this week announced the inquiry into the running of the state’s hotel quarantine system. The government has appointed former family court judge Jennifer Coate to run the $3 million probe.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Friday confirmed to The Age there had been a restructure in the department’s senior ranks.

Health Department deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck.

Health Department deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck.

Those changes resulted in deputy secretary Melissa Skilbeck being moved out of the emergency management field. She retains her role as deputy secretary.

Professor Sutton, the public face of the state’s pandemic response, sits directly below Ms Skilbeck in the department’s organisational structure. Unlike his counterpart in NSW, Professor Sutton is not a deputy secretary, meaning he sits three operational tiers below Health Minister Mikakos.

Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said Ms Mikakos should resign over the handling of the hotel clusters and an earlier Cedar Meats outbreak.

“If these reports are correct, it looks like a senior bureaucrat has been forced to take the fall for the health minister’s incompetence and continued pressure for her own resignation following the hotel quarantine bungle which has contributed to the continued increase of COVID-19 cases in Victoria,” Ms Crozier said.

More than 20,000 people have spent a mandatory two weeks in the hotels since the quarantine system began in late March.

Lax hygiene at Rydges on Swanston in Carlton has been blamed for infections among security staff and their contacts.

Lax hygiene at Rydges on Swanston in Carlton has been blamed for infections among security staff and their contacts.Credit:Getty Images

The Health Department instituted a review of hotel protocols in early June after poor hygiene practices, first reported by The Age, were blamed for the Rydges Hotel outbreak.

More than 20 Rydges on Swanston staff and their close contacts have been infected in the outbreak since it was identified on May 27. The Stamford outbreak started on June 17 and has grown to 35 cases.

Rydges on Swanston was initially a “hot” hotel to where people infected with COVID-19 were directed. In June, Rydges on Swanston stopped taking confirmed COVID-19 patients. The hotel’s first returned travellers were those who disembarked from the Greg Mortimer cruise ship from Uruguay.

Andrew Buntine, a supervising guard contracted to work at Rydges through security firm Elite Protection Services, said guards repeatedly raised concerns with Health Department officials in April and early May about substandard infection-control.

Guards, who Mr Buntine said received 10-minute inductions on hygiene protocols and worked 12-hour shifts, were asked to share elevators with infected returned travellers, some of whom were let out to communal areas including the swimming pool.

Elite’s contract was terminated on May 11. In the weeks before the termination, guards had also expressed concern about infected Cedar Meats workers who were allowed to leave their rooms because they were not subject to strict detention rules.

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Health Minister Greg Hunt says Victoria will ‘radically shakeup’ system

After a string of damning allegations about the conduct of private security guards, Victoria is planning to “radically shakeup” the system.

July 2, 2020 11:24PM


Last updated July 3, 2020 1:05AM AEST

Health Minister Greg Hunt has said the military could be deployed at quarantine hotels in Victoria following damning allegations about the conduct of security guards which has contributed to the spread of the virus.

Minister Hunt said he was “shocked” and “concerned” to learn about claims against private guards who were contracted to separate facilities, including that they had slept with guests.

There were 77 new cases of COVID-19 recorded in Victoria yesterday, as 36 postcodes and 310,0000 residents went into strict lockdown.

“(There are) military forces available if that’s the path they (Victoria) want to go down,” Mr Hunt told A Current Affair. “One of the advantages of having police or military is… Everyone stands up straighter. If they are there in some form or some presence then everybody stands up straighter. Everybody’s on watch, everybody’s on notice, everybody’s on guard.”

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Lexie Cartwright

The New York Times has written an article about the outbreak of the coronavirus in Victoria, saying the surge was threatening to “recast Australia’s success story in controlling the virus”.

With 77 new cases recorded yesterday, the publication said the spike “reinforced a dark truth about the outsize impact of the virus on vulnerable communities,” adding the language barrier between authorities and some migrant residents in Melbourne was “patchy”.

“The surge shows how even in countries that appear to be on track to safely resume normal life, the virus can quickly resurface,” the piece read.

Australia was flattening the curve before a recent outbreak in Victoria sparked fears of a second wave.

Lexie Cartwright

Health authorities are concerned as the number of coronavirus related hospitalisations increases.

There are currently 24 people in hospital in Australia, 20 of which are in Victoria and five of which are in intensive care.

Australia recorded its first coronavirus death last week in a month, with, Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton warning it was only the beginning.

“When you’ve got significant community transmission, when you’ve got 70-odd cases every day, there is absolutely a possibility, an expectation, that some of those people will die,” Professor Sutton said on Thursday.

Australia has recorded 86 new cases of COVID-19 since Wednesday. According to the ABC, six people have entered hospital since then, with two in ICU.

Lexie Cartwright

In his interview with A Current Affair, Health Minister Greg Hunt added Victoria was planning to “radically shakeup” the hotel quarantine system.

“We’re seeing that the DNA fingerprint as it were, of the disease across Melbourne’s north traces back very much to breaches of hotel quarantine,” Mr Hunt said.

When asked if military would be deployed at quarantine hotels, Mr Hunt said that was “overwhelmingly the case”.

Security firms hired for Melbourne’s hotel quarantine are alleged to have rorted the system and exploited the pandemic for their own benefit.

They allegedly charged for shifts that were never worked, paid security guards in cash and made up names for staffers who never existed.

There are also reports security guards slept with guests who were ordered to self-isolate inside their hotel rooms and have no contact with others.

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Australian News

Call for Health Minister Jenny Mikakos to be sacked

State Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien has called for Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos to be sacked over the State Government’s “botched” quarantine hotels program.

Mr O’Brien said heads “must roll, not in politics but in responsibility” after a security guard at Melbourne’s quarantine hotels was identified as the source of the city’s second coronavirus outbreak.

The saga is set to extend to a judicial inquiry with a report due on September 25.

At least 300,000 residents across 10 Melbourne suburbs have also been placed back into stage three lockdown restrictions.

“These are 300,000 people who should be able to go to work, to go out and enjoy the school holidays but can’t,” Mr O’Brien said.

“The Government decided to put in place poorly trained, unqualified private security guards to look after hotel quarantine and it was the wrong call – this hasn’t been a problem in any other state.”

A security guard, identified only as George, broke a gag order to appear on the Today show this morning where he revealed he received only five minutes of training before being tasked to one of Melbourne’s 15 quarantine hotels.

“And that was the PPE and everything, the box and dice and then we were sent up to your level,” he said.

His training was conducted by the head of the company’s carpark management, but George said the real problem was security companies hiring subcontractors to work at a much cheaper rate than regular guards.

“Every hotel quarantine has subcontracting happening, and that’s the way the companies are making money out of this,” he said.

When questioned if this was happening at Melbourne’s Stamford Plaza and Rydges hotels, George replied: “Definitely.”

He also said security guards were only given one face mask and one glove to use for an entire shift.

“These families (locked down) have done nothing wrong, they’ve obeyed the rules, but because of mistakes the Government has made they’re now paying the price,” Mr O’Brien went on to say on Thursday afternoon.

Ms Mikakos has been approached for comment.

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