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NSW’s wild weather threatens Wamberal homes due to beach erosion


A number of beachfront homes in NSW are facing further collapse after suffering more damage from a weekend of battering rain and wild surf as residents brace for flash flooding in the state’s south.

“It’s pretty scary stuff,” Ron told news.com.au before the recent sotrms, as he walks his dog along Ocean View Drive.

“It’s all anyone talks about around here. That and COVID.

“My home is behind the surf club so if that goes, I’ll know I’ll be next.”

RELATED: ‘Evacuate now’: Wild weather lashes Sydney

Ocean View Drive, in the beachside suburb of Wamberal about 100 kilometres north of Sydney, is a pleasant, but not flashy, residential street the kind you might find in many parts of Australia.

A collection of tidy apartment blocks and stand-alone houses – some snazzy, others less so – line the road. A hairdresser and cafe hug the corner.

But the closer you get, cracks – many literal – appear. Some of the houses are barricaded behind fencing and stern keep out signs; SES warning tape draped over the gates like Christmas tinsel.

And then there’s the 72 metre high crane in the middle of the road. It’s nosily, yet delicately, hauling aloft wire bags, each one containing four tonnes of rocks.

A deep, thunderous rumble echoes down the street as the bags crash onto the beach below the stricken homes. It’s a desperate stop-gap attempt to stop the homes from falling into the sea.

But the next storm has already hit.

On Sunday, new pictures emerged showing further cracks and erosion to the houses due to the state’s wild weather over the weekend. Three NSW towns were evacuated due to flooding fears and a severe weather warning for damaging winds and damaging surf was issued for people in metropolitan Sydney, Illawarra and parts of mid north coast, Hunter, south coast and Central Tablelands regions.

Residents in low-lying areas of Sussex Inlet and those within Moruya’s CBD area, on the state’s far south coast, were being directed to leave by the SES as flooding was expected.

Some houses have already partially slid down towards the beach, victims of a relentless series of fierce low pressure systems that have pounded the New South Wales coast this year.

Three weeks ago as another storm hit, 18 households were given just hours to evacuate. Five homes remain sealed off.

Everyone agrees a decision needs to be made about Ocean View Drive. But what that decision is – and who pays for it – has caused tension for years, decades even.

‘THIS STORM WAS DIFFERENT’

Resident Gordon Cahill says Ron, like the other locals, have reason to be scared.

“On some blocks it’s just 30 metres from high tide to Ocean View Drive,” he tells news.com.au from the granny flat his teenage daughter Matilda now calls home after they had to evacuate their home last month. He is kipping in a caravan next door.

“If the dune goes, Ocean View Drive is gone. This is a main road; it has gas and NBN and on the other side of the road are 400 homes that are less than five metres above sea level.

“People say you should do nothing, that all these rich bastards on the beach deserve it. But that’s not the whole story.”

Mr Cahill’s family have lived here for 35 years. They moved in some years after a huge storm in 1978 that sent several houses into the Pacific.

“Everyone has a place that feels like home, for me it’s where I can smell the salt.”

The favourite room of his house, one of the oldest overlooking the sea, wasn’t a room at all but the deck.

“We would have coffee there, have friends for dinner on beautiful summers night and, if a storm rolled up, we’d wait for the big warm drops of rain to come crashing down.

“But the storm in July was a different to the last couple. In 2010 there were big waves, up to 13 metres.

“This time the biggest wave was seven metres, but they were more frequent,” said Mr Cahill.

RELATED: Beach homes partially collapse

“They were these huge white-water rolls, racing in and grabbing huge handfuls of sand and sucking it out. There was 20cms of sand going every time, two or three times per minute.”

Then he noticed his beloved deck was rising up to meet the house, see sawing and buckling as the ground beneath it shifted.

“That’s when I thought it was a bit of a problem. I was worried it would crack one of the cantilevers beneath the house. So, in 90 km/h winds, I hung out and with my chainsaw cut off the deck.

“My house is on top of the dune and used to have a slope at both sides, Now it’s a slope on one side and a cliff on the other. I’m luckier than some; two doors up their kitchen is now in the ocean”.

HOMES SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN BUILT

University of New South Wales coastal erosion researcher Dr Mitchell Harley said this year Wamberal has been pounded by a trio of storms, two of which were the fifth and sixth most severe the area had ever seen.

“It’s been a triple whammy of storms. The first stripped away a lot of the sand and that’s made it vulnerable to more recent storms.”

In a tweet from last month he said what was happening at Wamberal was “like watching a disaster movie in slow-mo”.

It wasn’t so much that the shore was receding, Dr Harley told news.com.au, but rather that the coastline was “dynamic” where large storms strip away the sand and carry it out to sea only to bring the sand back again in calmer conditions.

“You shouldn’t build houses on sand dunes. The problem in Wamberal is the dunes were zoned as residential 100 years ago when we knew a lot less about how beaches change so we now we’re dealing with the consequences of poor planning decisions.

“One option is a managed retreat, where you accept these legacy issues will only get worse. The council could buy the properties and turn it into parkland but that’s very expensive,” he said.

“A properly designed sea wall will protect these homes and everything behind it but it’s also very expensive.”

Dr Harley said he wasn’t convinced the entire street was at threat from the ocean. But if sea levels did rise, that was a possibility.

NOT A ROW OF MILLIONAIRES

A 2017 report prepared for the NSW Government similarly found that while Ocean View Drive was unlikely to be permanently flooded, it could become choked by sand if the dune was allowed to fail.

However, a rise in sea level could result “in the inundation of many, if not most properties surrounding Terrigal lagoon and the loss of Wamberal beach”.

The report looked at various sea defences, from rubble mounds to a full sea wall and sand replenishment, and costed them at between $5 and $14 million. A planned retreat was by far the cheapest option.

Mr Cahill bristled at the notion that all the homeowners were rich and should pay for the work themselves.

“There are some people with ludicrous amounts of money here. But this is not a string of multi-millionaires. I’ve been in a position I’ve had to sell stuff just to eat.

“There are people who moved into a family home or used every penny and worked off their arses to be here.”

He said a house had sold for $4 million once. “But now the properties are probably worthless until it’s all fixed,” he said.

“Would I put in a proportion of paying for a solution? Yes. Would I pay all of it? No. It should be proportional given people use the beach and there are houses and amenities down Ocean View Drive that we need to protect,” said Mr Cahill.

‘THIS WAS PREVENTABLE’

He’s most angry at Central Coast Council, and its predecessor councils, which he claimed have prevaricated and done little to find a solution for the entire strip leading to piecemeal shoring up jobs.

His house was built with boulders in front which Mr Cahill insists has left the property structurally sound despite its precarious position. But his neighbours were only able to bring in extra sand to protect their homes and the sheer number of recent storms swept that way.

“I watched 35 years of council incompetence and it’s just not fair. We have been denied the right to build a one in 100-year protection for our homes and this storm was not even that. This was preventable.

“Everyone feels like they are banging their hands against a large concrete wall – yet we’re not allowed to build one.”

Central Coast Council did not answer specific questions from news.com.au but pointed to press statements including one from last week detailing the placing of 1800 tonnes of basalt rocks on Wamberal Beach.

“The success of this response will hold us in good stead as we plan further recovery works and a longer-term solution at both locations,” Council CEO Gary Murphy said.

The NSW Government has also set up the Wamberal Taskforce to figure out a permanent resolution to the problem.

“The taskforce is the only hope we have,” said Mr Cahill.

He, his daughter and two dogs are waiting to be told when they can re-enter their home. But he wants back in at some point.

“I want to live her until the end of my days. The house has good bones, she hasn’t moved, she doesn’t want to fall over. You don’t knock down a place that’s determined to stay and I’m going to respect that.”

benedict.brook@news.com.au | @BenedictBrook





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Local News - Victoria

Aged care homes facing legal action amid criminal negligence claims


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Mr Kontis said he had reported missing drugs of addiction, including opiates, to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

“The books are incomplete and we think there are drugs missing,” Mr Kontis said. “We feel the records are inadequate and do not indicate that these people received proper treatment between July 22 and when they were sent to hospital.”

A spokesman for Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said he had ordered an investigation into St Basil’s concerns.

“The minister has not received any such reports and has asked the department and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner to investigate this as a matter of urgency and to refer on to the relevant authorities,” the spokesman said.

The allegations came on the same day The Age received confirmation of a legal push from devastated families against St Basil’s and Epping Gardens.

The legal actions would allege that the facilities breached the duty of care they owed their residents.

Melbourne businessman Jack Karikas confirmed he would be part of an anticipated class action against St Basil’s, where his 85-year-old mother-in-law had become infected.

Mr Karikas said he and several other families had engaged lawyers to pursue St Basil’s, which is also now part of an investigation by the Victorian Coroner and police into whether some deaths could have been avoided.

“Let’s be very clear – the litigation is not about getting compensation. It’s about finding out how we got from one case on July 9 to where we are now – more than 130 cases – and why it took six days for the federal government to act,” Mr Karikas said. The number of cases connected to St Basil’s is 160.

“And what happened to the tests? We were told they were tested every second day, but now we’re finding out the tests were never sent off. They had residents mixed up and they didn’t know who was positive and who was negative.”

Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility in Epping on Wednesday.

Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility in Epping on Wednesday.Credit:Eddie Jim

Mr Karikas said civil action against St Basil’s, which is owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, was the only way of establishing what went wrong.

“We have bits and pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but there’s still a lot of pieces missing,” he said.

St Basil’s was placed in the hands of replacement staff on July 22 after Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton directed the facility’s entire management and staff into quarantine to contain a COVID-19 outbreak.

Mr Kontis declined to comment on the prospect of legal action against the centre but defended the conduct of his staff.

Ambulance workers push a stretcher into the St Basil's aged care facility in Fawkner on Monday.

Ambulance workers push a stretcher into the St Basil’s aged care facility in Fawkner on Monday.Credit:Getty

“I deny all allegations against St Basil’s. We did nothing wrong up until 9am, July 22, when we left,” he said.

St Basil’s isn’t the only aged care facility facing possible litigation.

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Tony Carbone, managing partner of Carbone Lawyers, said he was acting on behalf of several families affected by the outbreak at Epping Gardens, as the number of cases linked to the facility climbed to 169 on Thursday.

Mr Carbone told The Age he expected to issue civil proceedings in the Supreme Court as early as next week against Epping Gardens.

He said there was evidence of neglect, inadequate staffing and poor training at the aged care centre even before the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“This is a human tragedy on a massive scale and many of these people should never have died,” Mr Carbone said.

Mr Carbone also warned the centre’s NSW-based operator could face serious criminal charges if an infected employee were to succumb to the virus – although this has not occurred.

“With the new industrial manslaughter charges introduced in Victoria last month, the owners are looking at custodial sentences and huge fines if a worker was to die,” Mr Carbone said.

Antonio Croce, 81, died on July 23 after he contracted coronavirus while he was a resident at Epping Gardens aged care facility. Pictured with daughter Luisa Cavarra.

Antonio Croce, 81, died on July 23 after he contracted coronavirus while he was a resident at Epping Gardens aged care facility. Pictured with daughter Luisa Cavarra.

Luisa Cavarra is another of the relatives considering legal action with Carbone Lawyers after her father, Antonio Croce, 81, died several weeks ago from COVID-19 while living at Epping Gardens.

Ms Cavarra said that in the days before her father’s death, he felt sick and was having trouble breathing. She was allowed to visit him on July 19 at the nursing home and decided to take him to hospital, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19. He died several days later on July 23.

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“He was in pain, we couldn’t see him and it was heartbreaking that he died on his own,” she said. “We managed to do a FaceTime. The nurses at the Royal Melbourne Hospital were great. We did FaceTime and were with him till the end. But we were robbed of being with him and holding his hand.”

Mr Croce, from Italy, was “always waving to people” and was loved by everyone at the facility.

“He played cards with anyone that wanted to,” Ms Cavarra said. “I felt we were robbed. I know we had more time with my dad.”

On Thursday it was revealed a cluster of five coronavirus-related deaths among residents of St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner was being investigated by police and the state coroner.

Sources have told The Age a police taskforce would now be formed to assist the coronial investigation into five deaths at St Basil’s.

A spokeswoman from the coroner’s office said the focus of Justice John Cain’s coronial investigation was yet to be determined, but under the Coroners Act 2008, he must find, if possible, the causes of the deaths and the circumstances in which they occurred.

“His Honour is also empowered under the act to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future,” she said.

Epping Gardens declined to comment.

Victoria recorded its worst day of the pandemic on Wednesday, with 725 new cases and 15 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

On Thursday, there were 471 new cases and a further eight deaths recorded in the past 24 hours. Of those new deaths, half were linked to aged care outbreaks.

Statewide, 98 residents of aged care facilities across the state have died because of COVID-19 in recent weeks.

Of the 1754 total Victorian cases linked to aged care since the pandemic began, 810 were among residents, 641 among staff and 303 were contact cases.

There are more than 1400 active coronavirus cases linked with aged care and 103 facilities with active cases.

The federal government is the primary funder and regulator of aged care in Australia, while the state government runs a small proportion of facilities in Victoria. Under its coronavirus plan, the state government provides advice to all residential aged care facilities in the state.

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‘Looming’ COVID-19 emergency in disability support homes


“There’s a looming emergency in this sector and we need to be proactive to prevent what’s happened in the aged care sector. We have an obligation to disability support workers, they’ve been the forgotten workforce in this pandemic. Unless we work with them we will have another aged care crisis,” she said.

Professor Kavanagh was the lead researcher in a survey of 357 Australian disability support workers in late May and June which found nearly one in four (23 per cent) had had no coronavirus infection training and of those who had, nearly half (48 per cent) said they wanted more.

“The workforce is scared and they just aren’t resourced to support people in [a COVID-19 infection] situation. They are not a prepared workforce.”

It found that as in aged care, disability support workers cannot physically distance while working. Each worker assisted an average six people each in the week before the survey – but one had work contact with 50.

The national research by the University of Melbourne Disability and Health unit and the UNSW, Canberra, found one third worked in two or more settings and 14 per cent worked in three or more settings. More than four out of five workers (83 per cent) were women.

Two in five (38 per cent) purchased their own masks, and of those who took time off due to illness, less than half were paid. A 2018 report by National Disability Services found Australia had more than 35,000 front line disability workers.

Victorian support worker Kristy said since the day centre she works in closed due to the pandemic she has been working across multiple sites and “every day we get new advice on what to do and that is stressful”.

Workers are unprepared to look after people with disabilities with COVID-19 living in a group home. I feel terribly worried about that.

Professor Anne Kavanagh

“I am worried about protecting the people I work with as many have health problems and if they got COVID they would really be at risk of dying from it,” she said.

“I feel like the government has forgotten about people with disability and support workers. All the attention is on aged care but disability services have the same risks, even worse perhaps because so many of the people have other health problems.”

Professor Kavanagh said it was concerning that so many workers who had had some infection control training “still didn’t feel confident” they knew enough about it and wanted more. “Once you get to using full PPE, which is more than just masks and gloves, it’s a very complicated and difficult thing to do.

“It takes a lot of training; support workers are unprepared to look after people with disabilities with COVID-19 living in a group home. I feel terribly worried about that.”

She said far greater oversight of services and their responses to the pandemic by public health authorities was needed, plus more outbreak preparation and support by medical workers.

“They really need well-trained nursing staff to work alongside workers in these situations. The disability support workforce is really precariously employed and there are all the same risks associated with aged care workers.”

The Disability Support Workers: The Forgotten Workforce in COVID-19 report, which contains 11 recommendations to help disability support workers prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus infection in group homes, will be released today.

Among the recommendations are:

  • Governments update guidelines regarding PPE use among disability support workers, particularly in areas of high community transmission.
  • Governments reach out to workers to provide required training and clear information about whether, when, and how PPE is used, including on-site training with specialised infection control nurses.
  • Workers in high community transmission areas should have access to appropriate PPE (minimum of masks) without cost to them.
  • Disability support workers are made a priority group for testing along with healthcare and aged care workers.
  • Paid pandemic leave is available to all disability support workers who do not have access to paid sick leave and need to self-isolate or quarantine.
  • Governments and providers ensure workers minimise the number of people they support and numbers of settings they work in to reduce transmission risk.
  • Skilled healthcare workers be put on standby for rapid deployment to work with or replace support service workers for clients infected with COVID-19 as has been done in aged care.
  • Options are considered to temporarily rehouse residents in group homes where infections have occurred, to separated infected and non-infected residents.

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COVID-19’s deadly progress through our aged homes


“It’s terrifying,” Mcqueen says. “They are dying here, they are not dying in hospital.”

Cheryl Mcqueen, a resident of Arcare in Craigieburn, worries she is a sitting duck for COVID-19.

Cheryl Mcqueen, a resident of Arcare in Craigieburn, worries she is a sitting duck for COVID-19.

Mcqueen has been isolated in her room since July 12.

“It feels like solitary confinement. Originally we were told a fortnight but while they are still discovering more cases there is no end in sight – we could be locked in our rooms until Christmas. My window looks onto an empty courtyard, not even onto the street so I could see if there were still human beings out there.”

Mcqueen says the regular staff at Arcare are “beautiful – they would bend over backwards for you”. But agency staff have replaced many of the regulars who have become sick.

She says that once she wasn’t showered for four days. Her bed is often left unmade and the curtains not closed. One day her cornflakes were served on a plate instead of in a bowl.

Mcqueen says workers are supposed to change their gloves, gowns and masks every time they leave a resident’s room but “the guy who delivered lunch didn’t change”.

She worries that staff are disposing of personal protective equipment in the bin in her room. “I said I don’t want that in my bin, I don’t know what germs are there. The bins should be out in the hall.”

Arcare CEO Colin Singh said it had employed a full-time infection control specialist in February when it first became aware of the pandemic, who had been working closely with the Craigieburn facility.

“All of our members are required to wear full PPE and have completed training in the donning and doffing of PPE and infection control,” he said. “The requirement as to when to change PPE depends upon the task that is performed.”

Singh said PPE needed to be disposed of in a clinical waste bin inside the residents’ suite as it was viewed as potentially infectious or confirmed infectious whereas the halls were viewed as non-infectious.

Last week Mcqueen cried and cried. “I think I am all cried out now. You just don’t know what to do. It’s very lonely. It’s very scary.”

She is not alone in this ordeal. Elderly people across the state face a petrifying lockdown as the coronavirus rampages out of control in nursing homes.

There are now 928 active cases and at least 61 deaths linked to more than 90 aged care facilities in Victoria. Premier Daniel Andrews has warned more people will die and the “consequences could not be more grave”.

This week he announced Victoria would intervene in the crisis, despite private facilities being funded and regulated by the Commonwealth.

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“Some of the stories we’ve seen are unacceptable and I wouldn’t want my mum in some of these places,” Andrews said.

He cancelled all non-urgent elective surgery and said residents would be transferred to hospital from facilities where the government had “no confidence in infection control”.

At St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner – which has now been linked to 124 COVID-19 cases – the entire workforce was placed in quarantine for the first time in Australia’s history at the behest of the Victorian government.

The Commonwealth was forced to hastily assemble a replacement team. It struggled to cope amid a shortage of staff, with horrific stories emerging of faeces in beds and residents dehydrated and hungry. Desperate families were left in the dark about their loved ones as some residents died and others were evacuated to hospital.

St Basil's Home for the Aged in Fawkner.

St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner.Credit:Joe Armao

What went so wrong? Why were Victorian nursing homes caught flat-footed when COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care had been the canary in the coalmine all over the world?

The global picture

According to an analysis by the Burnet Institute, more than 40 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States have been staff or residents in nursing homes. This figure jumps to 58 per cent in Israel and Norway and 66 per cent in Spain.

Canada has the highest proportion in the world, with 81 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths in aged care centres. (The OECD average is 42 per cent.)

University of Toronto researchers blamed overcrowding, staffing shortages and a lack of personal protective equipment and testing at nursing homes.

There have also been warnings closer to home with deadly outbreaks at the Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House aged care facilities in Sydney.

“The question I ask everyday of myself and everyone else is why were we not better prepared?” says Professor Michael Toole, an epidemiologist from the Burnet Institute.

Toole points to Hong Kong, which reported no outbreaks in nursing homes until July, when the city experienced its third wave of the virus.

He says Hong Kong, which has a population of 7.5 million, learned a tough lesson from the outbreak of SARS in 2003 which killed 300 people there. Nursing home residents were more likely than the general public to get SARS and 78 per cent of infected residents died.

Immediately after the 2003 outbreak the Hong Kong government announced every nursing home had to have a dedicated government-trained infection control officer and at least a month’s supply of face masks and personal protective equipment.

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After an outbreak in two aged care homes in July, Dr Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, said all care homes should immediately avoid sharing staff or even rotating them across different floors within an institution.

He was quoted in the South China Morning Post saying he was not opposed to on-site quarantine for care home residents, as moving them around might increase cross-infection risks.

However he said it was important that care homes had contained transmission before allowing on-site quarantine.

Anglicare CEO Grant Millard has said if he could have his time again he would have sent all Newmarch House’s COVID-positive residents to hospital after the calamity resulted in 19 deaths.

Toole says Australia should have learned from Hong Kong, especially after the Dorothy Henderson Lodge and Newmarch House catastrophes.

“We had that window of opportunity between April and July. It’s not rocket science – it’s just keeping the virus from getting from infected people to uninfected people. We don’t want to go the way of Canada.”

The question of transfer

The Burnet Institute recommends that if a resident tests positive – and the aged care home cannot effectively isolate them – they should be transferred to a hospital, even if asymptomatic.

This has been a constant source of tension during the crisis.

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Only South Australia has adopted a state-wide policy of sending COVID-positive residents immediately to hospital – a measure that is backed by the aged care provider groups.

Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said residents who test positive are moved out of aged care and into hospital, except in circumstances when medical advice is that they remain in place because moving them could cause significant distress, such as residents with acute dementia.

“In these particular cases, COVID-positive residents are placed in separated cohorts within the facility from COVID-negative residents.”

Glendale aged care facility in Werribee – which has now been linked to 58 cases – and St Basil’s both initially had their pleas for COVID-positive residents to be transferred to hospital refused by the Victorian government.

'Will torment me for years': Jayne Erdevicki with her father Boro Petkovic, who died of COVID-19 at St Basil's Home for the Aged in Fawkner.

‘Will torment me for years’: Jayne Erdevicki with her father Boro Petkovic, who died of COVID-19 at St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner.

Jayne Erdevicki, whose father Boro Petkovic tested positive to COVID-19 at St Basil’s, says the doctor told her on July 21 that transferral to hospital was not an option.

“He told me if he needed oxygen and fluid it might prove difficult because it wasn’t an option to send him to hospital. I didn’t understand why not – of course I would have wanted him to get the best care. He didn’t say why. Under the circumstances I was a bit shocked.”

Erdevicki would never find out the reason her father could not be transferred to hospital. The following day St Basil’s staff were sent home to isolate and the phone rang out when she tried again and again to get through. “I rang and rang all of Wednesday [July 22], I wanted to know what’s his symptoms, is he getting worse or is he OK?”

On July 23 at midnight she was called by one of the replacement staff, who informed her father had passed.

“I started screaming and crying: ‘Why couldn’t someone call?’ She said: ‘Haven’t you organised everything?’ I just felt like she was pushing me to get the body out of there like he was a piece of rubbish to be disposed of. She also had the audacity to ask me if we were close, when I used to visit my father three times a week. What sort of a question is that? That phone call will torment me for years to come.”

Colbeck said the Commonwealth had to come in overnight and pull together a workforce that didn’t know the residents or St Basil’s. “The situation there was completely dire and some very unacceptable things occurred,” he told Channel 7’s Sunrise.

“I know people are upset, they are worried, they are angry. Nobody could predict an entire workforce of a facility was going to be entirely knocked out. That was a decision made by the DHHS … we have since discussed it with them and something like that won’t happen again.”

Lessons learned – and overlooked

The first major aged care facility outbreak in Australia was at Dorothy Henderson Lodge in Sydney, with the first case diagnosed on March 3. Altogether 17 residents were infected and five died.

Clinical Professor Gwendolyn Gilbert, the director of infection control for the Western Sydney local health district, says the outbreak provided important lessons.

The most important of these was the need for early, ongoing leadership by facility management and guidance from an experienced infection control professional.

“The COVID-19 outbreak, in Australia, has highlighted a widespread lack of infection prevention and control competence and confidence among healthcare and residential aged care facility workers,” she wrote in an article published in The Medical Journal of Australia.

Professor Joseph Ibrahim, the head of the Health Law and Ageing Research Unit at Monash University, says the federal government set up an online course on infection control in response to the pandemic.

Professor Joseph Ibrahim.

Professor Joseph Ibrahim.Credit:Jason South

“No one should have ever thought that was enough,” Ibrahim says. “Donning and doffing personal protective equipment is at least a 10-step procedure. You don’t learn to drive a car by watching someone driving.”

About 70 per cent of aged care workers are only qualified with a Certificate III, which requires as little as six weeks’ training.

“What happens is people come to Australia to study and the easiest way to get a job is to do a six-week course and work in aged care,” says one worker at a Melbourne nursing home who asked not to be named. “You can teach someone to make a coffee and serve meals but you can’t teach someone how to care for an elderly person in six weeks.”

Ibrahim says the aged care system in Australia was in trouble long before the pandemic.

“The government knew it, the Royal Commission knew it, the whole bloody world knew it. Why would you expect a failing system to perform really well under stress from an external disaster? You can’t expect the kid frying chips at KFC to fill in for Heston Blumenthal at a three-star restaurant.”

Aged Care Matters director Dr Sarah Russell.

Aged Care Matters director Dr Sarah Russell.Credit:

The Aged Care Royal Commission last year found the system failed to meet the needs of the elderly and was unkind and uncaring towards them. Its interim report, Neglect, said the sector suffered from severe difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff. Pay and conditions were poor and education and training patchy.

Premier Daniel Andrews has said “a bunch” of aged care workers are among those going to work when sick or while waiting for test results, which has seen community transmission burgeon.

“Let’s not judge them,” he said. “Let’s try to work out what is driving it.”

Dr Sarah Russell, the director of Aged Care Matters, says many casuals, who earn as little as $22 an hour, cannot afford not to work. She said they move between aged care homes, increasing the risk of transmission between homes.

“I’m really disgusted we didn’t learn from Newmarch House about the importance of teaching staff about infection control and having clinically trained staff in aged care homes,” Russell says.

She says there are no mandated staff-to-resident ratios in private aged care homes, which means some operate without a registered nurse on site 24 hours a day.

By contrast, she says, the state-owned nursing homes – which make up 180 of the 770 aged care facilities in Victoria – have prescribed ratios of registered nurses.

“We have had years to get this right,” Russell says. “It’s so sad this has happened.”

Royal Freemasons has had a COVID-19 outbreak at its Gregory Lodge aged care home in Flemington, with five staff and 23 residents testing positive.

Chief executive officer Kerri Rivett said staffing shortages had been an industry issue before COVID-19. Now, with infected staff and their close contacts in isolation, it was a real struggle to find aged care workers.

“We have found we are unable to fill all the shifts that are required,” Rivett said. “The surge workforce provided by the Commonwealth is fantastic, however they don’t have enough either.”

She said the Federal Government’s supply of personal protective equipment had been slow to arrive and Royal Freemasons had had to purchase its own, which was extremely expensive.

“Everyone is just overwhelmed because of the number of cases we have had in residential facilities.”

‘You can’t claim this is a shock’

Colbeck said $234.9 million was being allocated for a COVID-19 bonus to assist providers in retaining staff and further funding would be made available to ensure workers were supported to work at a single site.

Victoria has also announced a $300 payment for those isolating while waiting on test results and a $1500 quarantine payment to encourage people – including aged care workers – not to work if sick.

Ibrahim, who was named one of Good Weekend’s 2019 People who Matter for exposing the “astonishing” truth behind some nursing home deaths, said Australia’s initial response to the pandemic appeared to prioritise intensive care beds.

He believes the focus should have been on aged care and a national taskforce of experts should have been set up by March at the latest.

“You can’t claim this is a shock,” he says. “It was pretty obvious when you looked overseas what the problems would be.”

Ibrahim believes the COVID-19 preparedness of every aged care facility in Australia should be evaluated. (Colbeck says they are already required to have infection control measures and a COVID-19 outbreak plan.)

Ibrahim also wants independent officers – such as ADF personnel – to be appointed to liaise with homes in Victoria every week, allowing nursing home managers to raise any concerns they might have “frankly and honestly”.

The Victorian Aged Care Response Centre has now been established to coordinate the crisis, something critics such as Ibrahim argue is long overdue.

Cheryl Mcqueen was tested for the fifth time in a fortnight on Wednesday. She is still waiting for the results. “Every time they do it, it gets harder.”

She worries she is a sitting duck: “Am I going to sit here and test negative until I test positive?”

Mcqueen says the worst decision she ever made in her life was to move out of her Coburg housing commission flat into a nursing home.

“I can’t see my kids, I feel like I have got nothing. It’s no life for anybody, just locked in a room 24/7. There’s no end to it for us.”

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Doctors demand urgent risk checks at nursing homes


Premier Daniel Andrews announced an end to all but the most urgent elective surgeries in a bid to free up medical personnel to deal with the influx of elderly patients.

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Nurses employed by the state government have been deployed to take over care of residents living in troubled facilities, he confirmed, in a national response co-ordinated out of the State Control Centre.

“Where there is no confidence in infection control, where there is no confidence that care can be provided to a suitable standard, then we will do everything we can to move those residents out,” he said of the his government’s intervention.

Almost 40 people have died in Victoria in outbreaks linked to aged care – with many homes overwhelmed with infections in staff and residents. The Estia Aged Care Facility in Ardeer had 88 reported cases on Tuesday. There were 86 cases at St Basil’s, 82 at Epping Gardens Aged Care and 76 cases at the Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth.

The federal government is the primary funder and regulator of aged care in Australia, while the state government runs a small proportion of facilities in Victoria. Under its coronavirus plan, the state government provides advice to all residential aged care facilities in the state.

Dr Sarah Whitelaw, the AMA’s emergency representative, said the AMA and other speciality groups had been asking the Victorian Health Department for months to arrange risk assessments for all aged care centres as part of its plan to prevent and manage coronavirus cases.

“I know that the advice was given, but it wasn’t enacted,” she said.

A Victorian Health Department spokeswoman said all state-run residential aged care services participated in an assessment by the department in March. However, she said assessments of private and non-profit aged care residential services were the responsibility of the Commonwealth.

There are 50,000 aged care beds in Victoria and the state government is responsible for only 5609 of them, according to its coronavirus plan for the residential aged care sector.

“It is complex, and significant responsibility is held by the federal government, but that doesn’t change the responsibility for Victoria to have a co-ordinated state plan, including risk assessments for all centres,” Dr Whitelaw said.

ADF troops help health workers at Epping Gardens Aged Care on Tuesday.

ADF troops help health workers at Epping Gardens Aged Care on Tuesday.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Risk assessments would ensure centres had the infrastructure to safely isolate residents, such as single rooms and separate bathrooms, and help identify places where outbreaks would be disastrous, Dr Whitelaw said.

“If implemented earlier, I believe some of the deaths could have been avoided,” she said.

“I’m not trying to denigrate the Victorian Department of Health. But it is clear that they have lacked the operational capacity to address all of the issues that have been predicted.”

Dr Whitelaw said the state’s plan relied heavily on the use of in-reach teams, groups of nurses and doctors that helped provide medical care to residents in the nursing home to avoid unnecessary hospital stays. But she said their capacity differed from region to region and they were not usually available 24/7.

Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Pat Sparrow said she strongly supported the AMA’s calls for individual risk assessments at aged care homes.

“From the moment restrictions were eased we said we were concerned aged care would become the new front line,” Ms Sparrow said. “It is clear we haven’t got the support that was needed.

“We have seen time and time again that health and aged care don’t interface well, but they should. We need more support from [the] public health [sector] because we are not hospitals.”

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A Victorian Aged Care Response Centre was established by the federal government on Saturday in a plan to co-ordinate state and federal responses to the aged care clusters.

As part of that response, Dr Whitelaw said the AMA would like to see facilities outside hospitals repurposed to care for aged care residents, which would free up beds in hospitals to allow more elective surgery to resume.

Victorian AMA president Julian Rait warned thousands of aged care residents may soon need hospital treatment and it was not possible for hospitals to absorb them all.

“It’s very disruptive to move people out of their home into a hospital. It will be very disorienting and distressing for many,” Associate Professor Rait said.

“You wouldn’t really do that at the drop of a hat, but equally if you thought that infections were uncontrolled in a particular centre, you’d have no option but to do that.”

The aged care crisis became personal for politicians on Tuesday when Premier Daniel Andrews invoked his own mother when criticising standards in some privately run facilities. “Some of the stories we’ve seen are unacceptable and I wouldn’t want my mum in some of those places,” he said.

When asked to respond to comments about those facilities, which are overseen by the Commonwealth, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt choked back tears as he spoke of his father’s final years in a private aged care home and said he would not “hear a word against” aged care nurses.

“I cannot imagine better care that my family and my father could have got, and I speak, I think, for hundreds of thousands of families around the country,” Mr Hunt said.

Mr Hunt said staff at a Bupa aged care home, which The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have confirmed as Edithvale in Melbourne’s south-east, spent hours persuading Victorian health officials to allow nine residents infected with coronavirus to be admitted to hospital over the weekend.

Hinting at her frustration over the weekend’s delays, clinical services director of Bupa Aged Care Maryann Curry said she believed every aged care resident with COVID-19 should be hospitalised to reduce risk to themselves and fellow residents.

Revealing that aged care residents constituted about 7 per cent of Victoria’s new cases since July 1, Mr Hunt announced an AUSMAT emergency, multi-disciplinary health team – “the SAS of the medical world” – would be sent to Melbourne to assist in aged care.

More than 170 residents have been moved out of the Victorian aged care facilities hit by COVID-19 outbreaks, with more transfers planned in coming days.

Mr Andrews said he couldn’t put a number on how many would be moved to hospitals, but it would be a “massive exercise”.

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Victorian nursing homes forced to call in staff from other states


Unions have backed the call, arguing it will allow their members to protect the health of elderly people in care, but employers are worried it will leave them short-staffed.

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“The situation in Victoria has progressed to the point where considerable reliance is being placed on ‘agency staff’ to fill positions of workers in aged care settings where staff have been forced to isolate,” a submission from Leading Age Services Australia and Aged and Community Services Australia, two groups that represent the industry in Australia, says.

“This demand has now extended to agencies providing workers from interstate into Victoria.”

The organisations told the inquiry they would have to consider employing casual staff if they were forced to foot the bill for paid pandemic leave. But they would take a different position if the federal government funded the leave, they said.

Victoria’s aged care homes have been relying on staffing agencies to manage the number of staff who have had to stay home and isolate because of coronavirus.

Dozens of homes have recorded infections in Victoria, with some tallying more than 80 COVID-19 cases. About 4 per cent of coronavirus cases in Victoria have been from staff and about 5 per cent from residents, who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus because of their age and likelihood of having other illnesses.

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The Andrews government has made $1500 payments available to people who have to self-isolate and $300 for those who have been tested and are awaiting results, but said in its submission the payments were not intended to be a substitute for paid pandemic leave.

Treasurer and Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas said the Victorian government supported paid pandemic leave.

A spokesman for federal Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said the Commonwealth government was monitoring the situation.

The federal government has committed money to aged care providers in virus hotspots to ensure staff are not disadvantaged by being forced to work for one provider or stay home. The employer groups, including the peak Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, argue this support means paid pandemic leave is unnecessary.

The Fair Work Commission is expected to make a decision on pandemic leave as soon as this week.

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Staff at St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner told to isolate


“We have heard nothing, crickets as they say,” Ms Golding said. “I don’t know what’s going on. My mother can’t pick up the phone, she’s in a wheelchair and they have put her in bed for a week. I can’t even call her. It’s appalling.”

Christine Golding and her mother Efraxia at St Basil's.

Christine Golding and her mother Efraxia at St Basil’s.

The board of St Basil’s Homes for the Aged said that as of Wednesday, the home would be overseen by replacement staff provided by the federal Health Department after 18 staff and 47 residents tested positive to COVID-19. A further four cases have also been linked to the centre.

“This action, while implemented with a heavy heart, is one that was directed by the Victorian public health experts, doctors themselves who have shown unconditional understanding and commitment, which will help us to overcome this difficult period,” the board said in a statement.

It said residents who tested positive had been isolated and were being accommodated together in “COVID wings” to prevent further spread of the virus.

The board said regular staff who tested negative to the virus from July 26 would be allowed to return to their positions at St Basil’s on July 30.

St Basil's Homes for the Aged in Fawkner.

St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Chairman of the board Kon Kontis did not return calls from The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. However, earlier this week he told Greek newspaper Neos Kosmos: “Many of those found positive to the virus are asymptomatic. Sadly, others presenting symptoms are not being accepted at hospitals.”

Eight residents from St Basil’s have been transferred to hospital.

“More will be transferred if necessary,” a Victorian Department of Health and Human Services spokesman said.

More than 50 Victorian aged care residents have been transferred from aged care to hospital due to coronavirus outbreaks, the spokesman said.

Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said residents would be transferred to hospital on a case-by-case basis following a clinical assessment and in line with each of their advanced care requirements.

“We need to ensure we respect the wishes of all residents,” he said.

“The Commonwealth government is working closely with the facility, the Age Care Quality and Safety Commission, the Victorian government [Public Health Unit] and DHHS on the management of the facility.”

Mr Colbeck said work was also under way to create clean cohorting zones within the facility, with a deep clean carried out on all vacant and vacated rooms.

He said a communications team had been appointed to provide information to family members.

Ms Grouios said she was alerted to the outbreak by a friend last week and got “brushed off” when she rang St Basil’s, even though by this stage COVID-19 cases at the home were already being reported in the media.

“They were avoiding all questions,” Ms Grouios said. “We don’t know anything about the new staff coming in. It is a pandemic but it would be nice to be communicated with by the nursing home.”

On Tuesday she received a phone call from a doctor who initially said her mother had tested positive to COVID-19 and then apologised profusely and said she was negative.

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However, they were told Ms Elias would need to stay in her room for four to six weeks and be swabbed every week to test for COVID-19 because the virus was so prevalent at the home.

“Communication to family and next steps are paramount,” Ms Grouios said.

There have now been 54 cases linked to Estia Health in Ardeer, 37 to Glendale Aged Care facility in Werribee, 30 to Arcare Aged Care in Craigieburn, 26 to Estia Health in Heidelberg, 20 to Baptcare Wyndham Lodge in Werribee, 18 to Embracia Aged Care Moonee Valley in Avondale Heights, and a new outbreak at Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth.

Premier Daniel Andrews said “a bunch” of aged care workers were among those going to work when sick or while waiting for test results.

“Let’s not judge them. Let’s try and work out what is driving it. I think the financial hardship and insecurity of work is a really big factor,” he said.

Mr Andrews said a $1500 hardship payment and additional announcements he would make soon would help address that.

Aged care workers would also get paid pandemic leave to encourage them to stay home if they were sick, under a Fair Work Commission plan.

The commission, which is an independent tribunal responsible for Australia’s industrial rules, said on Wednesday it was looking to give staff in aged care homes paid pandemic leave because of the rapidly rising number of cases in Victoria, where at least 40 homes have recorded active infections.

The commission wants to hear more advice before making a final decision, including about whether the state government’s $1500 payment to aged care workers who have to self-isolate is enough to help them.

Leading Age Services, an industry group, said if the Fair Work Commission opted to give workers paid pandemic leave, governments should help bear the cost.

“It is crucial that no staff or providers are disadvantaged during these challenging times,” a spokesman said. The industry was working with governments to ensure it had adequate staffing if paid pandemic leave was introduced, he said.

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Aged care ‘the new front line’ as 40 nursing homes report COVID-19 cases


Many aged care staff are forced to work shifts at different locations as there are few full-time roles in the sector.

Mr Hunt said the “care of our elderly” was now one of Australia’s main health priorities, with the government providing one million face masks to aged care facilities in regional Victoria and another million allocated for disability workers.

Around 80 per cent of Victoria’s positive cases since mid-May have occurred via “transmission in workplaces, including private-sector aged care”, according to Premier Daniel Andrews.

There are now 216 aged care staff and students, residents and household contacts who have contracted the virus in Victoria. More than half of the active cases in the sector are comprised of infected staff (112 positive cases).

But over five days to July 19, the number of residents with COVID-19 almost tripled, from 35 active cases to 93.

Aged Care Community Services chief executive Patricia Sparrow said she was thankful state and federal governments were now “paying attention and focusing on aged care”, because internationally COVID-19 has been “so devastating” in its impact on nursing homes.

She said it was vital the first positive cases in aged care homes be transferred to hospital after diagnosis, giving the person the best chance of survival and reducing the virus spread.

“Aged care is kind of the new front line,” Ms Sparrow said.

“With the detail of these announcements, we need to make sure that all facilities are going to have enough staff, that workers aren’t disadvantaged by this decision, and providers have the right level of resourcing for their needs.”

Menarock Life aged care facility in Essendon, in Melbourne's north, has seen a number of COVID-19 cases.

Menarock Life aged care facility in Essendon, in Melbourne’s north, has seen a number of COVID-19 cases.Credit:Eddie Jim

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While the decision to limit workers to one aged care facility only “needs to happen” to reduce the spread, she said, the bonds workers have forged with residents also needs to be considered.

The two largest active clusters are at the Estia residential aged care facility at Ardeer, in Melbourne’s west, and the Embracia Moonee Valley nursing home at Avondale Heights, in the city’s north-west, which both have 38 positive cases.

Glendale residential aged care facility in Werribee currently has 24 active cases, while Arcare in Craigieburn has reported 21.

Regional Victoria’s aged care facilities have not escaped the virus, with one positive case at both Bill Crawford Lodge in Ballarat and at Mercy Place Bethlehem Home in Golden Square, a suburb of Bendigo.

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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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Aged care home’s request to transfer COVID-19 cases to hospital denied


Ms Ryan said she had been monitoring the situation at Glendale.

“Upon hearing their concerns today about patient transfers, I have been in touch with federal health authorities to raise Glendale’s concerns in an attempt to get a speedy and satisfactory outcome for residents, their families, the staff and the management,” she said.

Glendale Aged Care declined to comment.

The DHHS said some of the state’s aged care residents had been transferred to hospital during COVID-19 outbreaks in the past fortnight.

“Access to acute care is based on clinical need and no Victorian will be denied appropriate clinical care when needed,” the department said in a statement.

“The COVID-19 Aged Care Plan means these care decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and take into account the clinical needs and preference of the resident, and a facility’s capacity to provide the level of care required, workforce and infection control risks.

“Depending on the severity of cases and their setting, the decision may be made to provide treatment for the patient in the existing facility. In some cases, relocation into an unfamiliar setting can have negative impacts on the wellbeing of the patient in care, and may result in further risk to the patient.

“DHHS works closely with aged care facilities to ensure care of residents is not compromised in any way and appropriate treatment can be provided as required.”

There have been 27 virus outbreaks in Victorian aged care homes since the start of the pandemic, with growing clusters at facilities in Essendon and Ardeer.

On Thursday all residents from Menarock aged care in Essendon were moved to acute care in hospital after an outbreak among staff and residents reached 31 cases, up two from Wednesday. Estia aged care in Ardeer has 21 cases.

Aged care provider groups have written to the state government urging it to transfer all aged care residents who tested positive to hospital to give them the best chance of survival and prevent major outbreaks.

Anglicare chief Grant Millard has said if he had his time again he would have sent all COVID-19 positive residents to hospital from the Anglicare-run Newmarch House aged care home in Sydney, where 19 residents died in one of the country’s worst outbreaks.

“You can’t expect hospital-like service from a residential aged care provider,” he said in May.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said on Thursday that the key strategy health authorities were relying on to keep the virus from aged care homes was screening healthcare workers who entered the homes, rather than removing sick residents.

“I don’t think moving residents out who are infected is always the control measure that is required,” he said.

“The primary thing is to never have infection introduced in the first place … We need to focus on making sure the staff who are turning up positive are excluding themselves at the very first symptom.”

But Aged Care Guild CEO Nicholas Brown said it was “definitely a concern” that Glendale had not been able to transfer its COVID-19 positive residents to hospital.

“DHHS seems to be stonewalling here,” Mr Brown said.

“This is an industry-wide issue across a lot of states and territories – the only state with a clear protocol to transfer COVID-positive aged care residents to hospital is South Australia.

“My big concern in Victoria is senior Australians in care are not getting the same access to hospital as everybody else.”

Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow said the government was deciding case by case whether to treat a sick person at their nursing home or take them to hospital,

“Residents who test positive need to be transferred to hospital – for them to get the best treatment, but also for providers to be able to stop the further infection of residents,” she said.

Some facilities would find it difficult to stop the spread of infection, she said, and all homes have common dining areas.

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On Nine’s The Today Show on Thursday, host Allison Langdon said she had just heard from Graeme, a resident at Glendale Aged Care, who had lost a friend to COVID-19 and wanted infected residents taken straight to hospital.

Asked if he agreed, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said those medical decisions were being made on the ground.

“So what we’ve done is made sure that every facility immediately has access to hospital, to removal, to another facility, or to isolation,” Mr Hunt told The Today Show.

“Those medical decisions are being made on the ground, but this is something that the Prime Minister and myself and Richard Colbeck, the Aged Care Minister, have been incredibly focused on.”

Richard Lindley, a professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Sydney, said the option of hospital transferral needed to be seriously considered.

“Nursing home staff don’t have the expertise and training in infection control the hospital nursing staff would have,” he said.

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“The carers often come from the most disadvantaged groups in society. Some of them are working in more than one facility. We know from overseas experience outbreaks can be spread very easily across other nursing homes.”

On Thursday the federal government said authorities were considering banning healthcare workers from working across multiple aged-care facilities.

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