The rise in cases comes as The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald learnt that major orders for ventilators, defibrillators and intensive care monitors – often based on the worst-case scenario – have been cancelled or renegotiated, and may now need to be revised following the spike in cases.
More than 3000 intensive care monitors were ordered in April, before the consignment was significantly reduced after protracted negotiations with the manufacturer, according to a government source who was not authorised to comment publicly.
Health Purchasing Victoria had wanted fewer than 1000 of the monitors, before eventually agreeing to take about 2000.
Plans to buy hundreds of defibrillators from overseas never proceeded after Victoria managed to flatten the curve in April.
A proposal for a 750-bed intensive care facility at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre was also quietly shelved.
Melbourne City Council had entered a joint venture with Lendlease to transform the building known as Jeff’s Shed, with plans to expand the facility to 2000 beds if the crisis deepened. It is unknown if a commercial agreement was made with Lendlease, or whether it received compensation when the project was cancelled.
A Lendlease spokeswoman said it had “no current agreements or works in place at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre”.
Brunswick Private Hospital in Melbourne’s inner north remains closed for new admissions after four patients and a healthcare worker tested positive to the virus on Wednesday.
Contact tracing is also under way after outbreaks in four Melbourne aged care homes in 24 hours.
A Mercy Health aged care worker who provides services to elderly residents in their homes was also among the new cases of coronavirus reported in Victoria and was isolating at home.
Mercy Health said the worker had no symptoms prior to testing. It was working with government contact-tracers to identify who else might be at risk.
A staff member at the Doutta Galla Lynch’s Bridge nursing home in Kensington may have unknowingly exposed elderly residents to the virus after attending work on July 2 and 3 while infectious.
A resident has tested positive at the Glendale Aged Care facility in Werribee in the city’s west, while a staff member who worked at the Uniting AgeWell facility in Preston has also tested positive.
Uniting AgeWell said in a statement about coronavirus on its website that it had implemented a “robust pandemic plan and infection control protocols”, was following the advice of state and federal governments and had set up a COVID-19 taskforce of senior executives and managers.
An employee at Baptcare Karana age care facility in Kew has been infected, but the Health Department said they did not work while infectious.
A doctor at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital tested positive, sending 15 staff into quarantine after potential exposure, while a rehabilitation patient at the Epworth Hospital in Hawthorn was also infected with the virus.
Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait said he was extremely concerned by the spike in infections in hospitals and aged care homes.
A cluster at the Northern Hospital’s emergency department in Epping, which emerged last week, has infected nine staff so far.
Associate Professor Rait said he was particularly troubled by the cluster at Brunswick Private Hospital, which provides rehab services for a large cohort of vulnerable and immuno-compromised patients.
In a statement, Brunswick Private Hospital said staff had acted “appropriately and with immediacy”.
“Hospital management is working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Public Health Unit for contact-tracing and overall COVID-19 management,” the statement said.
“As a precautionary measure … Brunswick Private Hospital patient admissions and visitor access has ceased until further notice.”
As fresh figures reveal Victoria is braced to hit a record 1000 active cases this week, Professor Rait said it was critical hospitals considered bringing in the mandatory use of surgical masks in clinical areas at all times.
Under new advice, staff in clinical areas are now required to wear a mask at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Northern Hospital, the Austin and The Alfred to protect healthcare workers and patients.
“This is something every metropolitan hospital in Melbourne should be thinking about implementing,” Professor Rait said. “Not just healthcare workers, but all guests and visitors should also be required to wear masks.”
He said the “gold standard model” was Western Health, which had introduced even more stringent precautions for three of its main hospitals, including Footscray, requiring all staff to wear masks and a face shield, even if they don’t work with patients.
Two nurses who attended a group training session at the Royal Melbourne Hospital have also been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, at least one nurse at The Alfred hospital has tested positive this week, while four Victorian paramedics have been infected and are in isolation.
A spokesman for the Epworth Hospital said its pandemic planning had prepared for the scenario of a patient becoming infected and “immediately triggered its internal response team to ensure our patients were cared for and that contact tracing and identification of potential exposures in the rehabilitation centre took place”.
Glendale Aged Care facility and the Department of Health and Human Services have been contacted for comment.
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Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.