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Victoria records one new case


Victoria has recorded just one new case of COVID-19 and recorded no further deaths on Saturday.

It brings Melbourne’s rolling 14 day average to 2.4, with health authorities saying there are now only two active mystery cases with an unknown origin in the community.

Regional Victoria’s rolling average sits at 0.

Saturday’s numbers represent a fall from Friday when four new coronavirus cases were diagnosed in the local government areas of Wyndham, Brimbank, Hume and Greater Dandenong.

Two of the diagnoses were under review due to initial low positive tests results and subsequent negative results.

The two mystery cases were in the postcodes 3081 and 3152, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The state’s total case numbers were sitting at 20,347 as of Friday afternoon, and will be updated later today.

It comes as Melburnians enjoy their first weekend back on the town since the relaxation of the city’s strict lockdown laws.

Local pubs, bars, restaurants and businesses have welcomed customers back following Wednesday’s windback, with Kmart stores copping a wave of shoppers as the clock struck midnight on October 28.

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No contact records, no safe distance as businesses flout COVID-safe rules


Katey Randall, who works for a company that helps businesses become COVID-compliant, said she had visited a hairdresser and beauty salon in a private capacity on Wednesday morning and had not been asked to provide any details for contact tracing.

“I think it’s one thing that should be highlighted [to the government]. Where’s the contact tracing? What do you make of this?” she said.

Readers have told The Age they visited hairdressers, nail salons and cafes across the city that did not take the contact details of walk-in customers on Wednesday.

The Age observed patrons at one inner-northern pub sitting at neighbouring tables in a small footpath area, with the backs of their chairs touching. Under current restrictions, groups of patrons are limited to 10 people and must be seated 1.5 metres from other tables.

Customers flocked to pubs, restaurants and gelato shops on Wednesday night.

Customers flocked to pubs, restaurants and gelato shops on Wednesday night. Credit:Getty Images

Victorian businesses, including hospitality and beauty services, are required to take the contact details of any person who visits the premises for more than 15 minutes. However, most retail shops, including clothing and homeware stores, are not required to keep customer records.

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Advice on the Victorian government’s coronavirus website says spot checks will be conducted by Victoria Police who can issue on-the-spot fines of up to $1652 for individuals and up to $9913 for businesses.

“Industry bodies, Victoria Police, WorkSafe and authorised officers will work together to inform Victorians about the directions, as well as undertake enforcement and compliance activities as needed,” the website states.

The Age contacted the Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria Police, WorkSafe, Emergency Management Victoria and the state government on Wednesday night to seek clarity about which agency would be monitoring businesses and enforcing rules.

How will you enforce this? Who will enforce it?

Directions will continue to be enforced through spot checks by Victoria Police and the use of emergency powers by Authorised Officers to ensure compliance with the Public Health Directions. 

Industry bodies, Victoria Police, WorkSafe, and Authorised Officers will work together to inform Victorians about the directions, as well as undertake enforcement and compliance activities as needed. 

Community members can raise concerns about compliance with directions through the Police Assistance Line (PAL) on 131 444. Workers can raise concerns via WorkSafe on 1800 136 089. Employers can talk to their industry regulator or peak body for specific industry related support. 

A Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak Joint Intelligence Unit has been established to support comprehensive preparedness and responses to outbreaks and identify and manage outbreak risks. 

The Department of Health and Human Services and WorkSafe will co-ordinate intelligence and information on businesses that are non-compliant. 

Source: www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au

Victoria Police initially referred questions to DHHS, which directed The Age to its website that states: “WorkSafe Victoria is continuing to work closely with Victoria Police, Emergency Management Victoria and the Department of Health and Human Services on compliance and education activities across the state.”

WorkSafe referred questions to DHHS, while Emergency Management Victoria advised The Age to contact the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.

At his daily press conference on Thursday, the Premier said he was surprised to learn Victoria Police and government departments had not been able to provide clear answers about enforcement.

“Victoria Police are there to enforce the Chief Health Officer’s directions, WorkSafe have a role to play if it is in a workplace and authorised officers in partnership with Victoria Police have a role to play as well,” he said.

He said the coronavirus hotline would refer complaints to the appropriate agency. “They can either direct you to someone, or they would deal with the details you provide them and the appropriate person will be dispatched. It may not be in person. It may be a phone call. For instance, a complaint about conduct at a hairdresser’s will be treated differently to a complaint about conduct at a meatworks,” Mr Andrews said.

When asked directly whether Victoria Police would enforcing social distancing rules at cafes and pubs, the Premier said: “It is difficult to give you a blanket answer, that is what I say. Sometimes it is a matter for the police and other times it will not be.

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“We cannot literally have 100,000 people out there making sure these rules are followed and there will always be limits to how much enforcement activity you can have …

“I do not want the non-compliance of some businesses to detract from the amazing performance of the vast majority [of Victorians], but I will say this – there are fines and they are significant and they will be levied.”

Mr Andrews said he expected Victoria Police to provide an update about their enforcement plans for Melbourne’s first weekend out of stage four lockdown.

The blurred lines of responsibility in Victoria’s botched hotel quarantine program contributed to its failure, which resulted in the state’s catastrophic second wave of the coronavirus.

State controller Jason Helps told the hotel quarantine inquiry last month that a complex “multi-layered decision-making structure” in the program made it “difficult to track the origin of a decision, the role or position responsible and information, data or plans”.

Mr Andrews confirmed on Wednesday the state was creating a tailored QR check-in tool – either an app or a website – that will operate within the state’s existing digitised contact tracing software developed by US tech firm Salesforce.

The ACT Health Department had offered Victoria its existing app, but Mr Andrews said his government had opted to design a system that worked in coordination with the state’s existing software rather than use an off-the-shelf product that might add another layer of software to contact tracing.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

Victoria Police can issue on the spot fines of up to $1652 for individuals and up to $9913 for businesses for: 

  • refusing or failing to comply with the emergency directions 
  • refusing or failing to comply with a public health risk power direction 
  • refusing or failing to comply with the Public Health Directions to provide information 

Fines of up to $20,000 for individuals and $100,000 for businesses are possible through the court system. 

Individuals who do not wear a  face mask and do not have a lawful reason can be fined $200. 

A person can be fined up to $4957 for leaving metropolitan Melbourne without a valid reason. 

Source: www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au

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Local News - Victoria

Victoria records three new COVID-19 cases, no deaths and additional mystery infection


But Dr Fauci said people are unlikely to be able to go about their normal lives until at least the end of next year.

“I think it will be easily by the end of 2021 and perhaps into the next year before we start having some semblance of normality,” Dr Fauci said via video link.

“If normal means you can get people in a theatre without worrying about what we call congregate-setting super infections, if we can get restaurants to open almost at full capacity.”

But the director of the United States’ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said stubborn anti-vaxxer beliefs, political division and the self-interested meddling of politicians would all make the job of immunising the world against COVID-19 tougher.

Foot traffic through some Melbourne CBD streets was back to 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels on Wednesday as shops, cafes and restaurants were allowed to reopen.

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But one of Victoria’s leading economists urged caution, saying the uncertainty around the prospects for both the state and national economies was unprecedented, despite the cautiously upbeat assessment this week from the Reserve Bank of Australia.

“The recovery of the Victorian economy depends on the degree to which those industries have stayed afloat,” RMIT economist Leonora Risse said.

“It is my expectation that we will see a recovery but that recovery will plateau, it won’t go back to the full force pre-pandemic levels because we don’t have that international [visitor] market.”

The Age was unable to obtain any real-time figures on consumer spending for Melbourne’s first day of freedom but data on pedestrian movements in the CBD on Wednesday points to better times ahead for city retailers, after months of keeping their doors shut.

At lunchtime on Wednesday, 1916 people were logged walking through Bourke Street Mall, almost five times more than the average foot traffic at that time over the past month, with above average foot traffic also recorded outside Flinders Street and Southern Cross stations, at Melbourne Central and on Lygon Street.

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Local News - Victoria

Victoria records new cases of coronavirus, deaths


Mystery cases concern health authorities the most because they suggest the virus is circulating in the community.

The reopening targets were for a 14-day average of below five (which was reached on October 25) and for there to be five or fewer mystery cases over the previous fortnight (which was reached today).

Of the two new cases confirmed today, one has already been linked to a known cluster while the infection source of the second is still being investigated.

The infection source for six people who tested positive over the past fortnight is still being investigated.

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Meanwhile, Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health has given advice to Melburnians returning to something like normal life as the city’s lockdown lifts: don’t rush.

Dr Ruth Vine, the country’s first top health bureaucrat focused purely on mental health, said this week’s changes, with home visits allowed again and hospitality and retail reopening, would provide an immediate fillip for mental health for some but not all.

“I do have to say and I give myself this advice, which is yes you have this sense of relief and sense that ‘hey hey, maybe things are getting back to normal’, but don’t rush too fast,” Dr Vine told ABC’s Radio National.

“Don’t be too fast, don’t stop being vigilant. Measure that, moving out, and don’t think some people aren’t going to find it hard. There will be many difficult questions to answer still.”

Victoria’s Mental Health Minister James Merlino yesterday revealed presentations to hospital emergency rooms with mental health episodes had grown 25 to 30 per cent during the state’s second wave.

Asked whether there was enough urgency around mental health, Dr Vine said speed was important at the moment but that could not replace getting it right.

“There is an irony there because there is an urgency but of course COVID itself has delayed many things … I think for instance the Victorian Royal Commission [into mental health] was to report in October but that’s been pushed back to February,” she said.

“I think there’s an urgency, but I don’t think urgency should replace consideration and consultation and really trying to get it right.”

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Victoria records no new cases of coronavirus, no deaths



Victoria has recorded no new cases of COVID-19 in the past day and no deaths, as recent test results from the outbreak in Melbourne’s northern suburbs are all negative so far.



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Melbourne’s restrictions remain in place as state records seven new COVID-19 cases


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Victoria recorded seven new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday – the same number as Saturday – and no new deaths. The state’s 14-day rolling average dropped to 4.9, just below the threshold of five that was initially set to move to the next phase of the reopening road map.

Mr Andrews said he hoped to be able to announce an easing of restrictions by Tuesday, once he was confident the northern suburbs outbreak was under control.

Mr Andrews acknowledged the deep frustration of Victorians and said his public health team needed to rule out the possibility of widespread community transmission in the northern suburbs. “I do hope to make definitive announcements about opening up metropolitan Melbourne in a couple of days’ time,” he said.

Health authorities are sweating on about 60 key tests that will indicate the extent of the northern suburbs spread.

About 250 tests of first-ring close contacts – those who had direct contact with known cases – were tested on Saturday. On Sunday, a further 60 were expected to be tested, mostly from the East Preston Islamic College and Croxton special school which will remain closed this week.

Dedicated testing facilities have been set up to test members of these school communities. Anyone with links to the school, even if they were not showing symptoms, have been being urged to get tested.

“There are two sets here. We are very interested in the close contacts because we want to establish if there are any positive cases in that group, because they are the ones most likely to [test positive],” the state’s testing commander Jeroen Weimer said.

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“If we’re going to find any more cases, that is the area where we are most likely to find them. The purpose of the wider community testing approach … [is to test] workers at the schools but also anyone remotely symptomatic in the suburbs to get tested.”

Of about 17,200 tests completed on Friday, 2802 were in the northern suburbs – an increase of 35 per cent on the week before.

After a promising week of low, single-digit case numbers, the government had earlier advised retailers that staff could return to work to start preparing their stores from Wednesday this week in a “dark” opening.

In good news for regional Victoria, Mr Andrews said that from 11.59pm on Tuesday, indoor gyms and fitness spaces will be open to up to 20 people with a maximum of 10 people per space.

Indoor pools will be allowed to open to up to 20 people and indoor sport will begin for under 18s.

Food courts will be allowed to open and live music will be allowed outdoors. School graduations will also be permitted.

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Victoria records 7 new cases ahead of predicted easing


Victoria recorded seven new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, ahead of Premier Daniel Andrews’ press conference where he is predicted to announce some restrictions will ease.

Restrictions easing depends on case numbers in the week leading up to Sunday, he said.

There were no COVID deaths in the 24 hours to Sunday morning.

There were nine cases in Victoria with an unknown source over the past fortnight, meaning the Department of Health does not know how the person caught the virus — another key measure deciding how quickly the state will open up.

The 14-day rolling average is 4.6.

According to the state’s Roadmap to Recovery, the rolling average must be below five to trigger the next step of the state’s journey to “COVID-normal”.

The 14-day rolling average in regional Victoria is 0.2.

Sunday’s numbers follow seven new cases on Saturday, one on Friday and five on Thursday.

Restrictions easing on Sunday could include retail, cafes, restaurants and bars beginning to reopen, some workplaces resuming, places of worship resuming in-person services, and changes to weddings, funerals, and outdoor gathering restrictions.

But a new cluster in North Melbourne could dampen the restrictions originally flagged to loosen up on Sunday.

Two schools have closed and hundreds of people have been placed in quarantine after an outbreak started when a primary school student went to school while positive, an incident blamed on confusing messaging from the Department of Health and Human Services to the boy’s family.

Investigations are under way as to whether the cluster has led to widespread community transmission in the northern suburbs.



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Victoria records seven new virus cases


Victoria has recorded seven new virus cases and no further deaths on Saturday.

Melbourne’s all-important 14-day coronavirus average has not hit five – meaning lockdown restrictions could be further eased on Sunday.

Regional Victoria’s average is 0.2. There are 10 mystery cases in metropolitan Melbourne and none in regional Victoria.

Four of the new coronavirus cases were detected in Melbourne’s north as the cluster linked to East Preston Islamic College continues to grow.

The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed on Saturday morning there had been four new infections in the Preston area.

One of the new cases is a student at East Preston Islamic College.

Victorian health authorities have urged all East Preston Islamic College and Croxton School families and staff to get tested immediately, even if they don’t have any symptoms and to stay home until they get their results.

The health department said both schools would remain closed for the next two weeks.

A drive-through testing centre will also be opened at East Preston Islamic College from Saturday.

There are currently 10 testing sites in the Hume, Banyule and Darebin council areas with additional pop-up centres to be opened in coming days.

The health department said a number of secondary close contacts at Sirius College and Ilim College are also being tested as they are connected to separate close contacts who will be tested again over the weekend.

The health department said in a statement they are working closely with community and faith leaders from across Melbourne to ensure everyone is aware of the importance of getting tested.

Victoria’s Commander of Testing and Community Engagement, Jeroen Weimar, said he is grateful for the community’s response and the support of the community leaders.

He said he held several sessions over the last two days to listen and act on the advice from leading community members.

“I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the East Preston Islamic College which is has taken the precaution to close for the next 14 days and providing regular updates to their students and families,” Mr Weimar said.

“The college is leading their community through this difficult time and is to be commended.”

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Victoria records one new case as hundreds remain in isolation and anti-lockdown protesters prepare to return to the Shrine


“This outbreak is mostly between and within households so we don’t have evidence yet of significant outbreaks across workplaces and broader communities. These are all households who know each other.”

Police will monitor a protest against Melbourne’s ongoing coronavirus restrictions planned for 2pm on the AFL grand final public holiday.

Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius, who at the height of Victoria’s second coronavirus wave described conspiracy theorists and anti-lockdown protesters as “batshit crazy” and “utterly selfish”, said demonstrators would be fined if they were more than 25 kilometres from their homes, or if they gathered in groups of more than 10 people drawn from more than two households.

“Protest is not unlawful, it’s a human right, and we’re now operating in a context where the Chief Health Officer’s directions do allow people to leave home for recreation and for socialising,” he said.

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“Whether you’re protesting down at your local park, whether you’re protesting at the Shrine, you must comply with the CHO directions about public gatherings.

“Anyone that turns up to the Shrine … can expect to find police asking them, ‘Who are you? Where are you from and where do you live?'”

Victoria Police will be out in large numbers “setting the tone” in Richmond and Geelong over the grand final weekend and have reminded fans not to get “caught up in the moment” and break coronavirus restrictions.

“The grand final is being played in the middle of a pandemic and it’s critical in our own last quarter before moving towards opening up again as the second wave eases, we do everything we can to maintain that momentum,” Mr Cornelius said.

Victoria recorded five new cases on Thursday, all linked to the northern suburbs outbreak which has 16 active cases across six households. More than 500 people, including 120 people in a Broadmeadows social housing block, are self-isolating as a result of the cluster.

Health alerts have been issued for five suburbs in Melbourne’s north – Dallas, Roxburgh Park, Broadmeadows, Preston and West Heidelberg – after a misunderstanding led to an infectious year 5 student going to school.

Authorities expect additional cases will be detected across 10 testing sites in the hotspot suburbs.

Testing has been ramped up in Melbourne's northern suburbs as a result of a cluster with 16 active cases.

Testing has been ramped up in Melbourne’s northern suburbs as a result of a cluster with 16 active cases. Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Meanwhile, the town of Little River was reunited at midnight under COVID-19 restrictions, with a reclassification meaning it is no longer split in half by the metropolitan-regional border in Victoria.

The state government announced on Thursday night that the town with a population of just 1300, 30 kilometres north-east of Geelong, would be reclassified as regional Victoria with the boundary to be adjusted to go around the community instead of through it.

Previously, residents from the Wyndham side of the river faced a $4957 fine for travelling to their local supermarket in Lara.

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Victoria records five new COVID-19 cases, no deaths


An urgent health warning has been issued for five suburbs in Melbourne’s north after a primary school student who should have been isolating sparked the new outbreak that has been linked to two schools and a public housing block.

Residents in Dallas, Roxburgh Park, Broadmeadows, Preston and West Heidelberg have been urged to get tested immediately, even if they have no symptoms.

Pop-up testing sites have opened at Northland Shopping Centre (open seven days, 9am to 5pm), Roxburgh Park Youth and Recreation Centre (open seven days, 9am to 12.30pm and 1-5pm), and at Banyule Community Health Heidelberg West (seven days, 10am to 4pm).

The outbreak started with a student at East Preston Islamic College and a close contact has been identified at Dallas Brooks Primary School. Both schools have been closed for deep cleaning.

The cluster has also been linked to cases at a social housing block in Broadmeadows, where 120 residents have been asked to self-isolate for 48 hours and get tested.

Of the three new COVID-19 cases reported on Wednesday, two were linked to the “northern metro region community outbreak”. The third case was a household contact of a known case.

Associate Professor Sanjaya Senanayake from the Australian National University Medical School told the Today show the northern suburbs outbreak is “certainly worrying but that does not mean that the health authorities can’t get this under control”.

“We were hoping that Melbourne and Sydney, these big cities, could actually get rid [of], or eliminate COVID but it looks like that’s going to be really difficult. Unfortunately, life is likely to be periods of very low cases, punctuated by potentially super spreading events like this.

“What’s really important is that these events are identified early and that there is a quick, good response, which the government seems to be doing at the moment.”

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Professor Senanayake said Victoria’s response to the latest outbreak was reasonable.

“So-called ring fencing, where certain areas are shut down while the testing is being done and people are identified with the virus and until the outbreak is over … that is not an unreasonable thing, but while life in the rest of the city continues on as normal.”

However, he said a large outbreak could jeopardise Victoria’s hopes of easing restrictions for hospitality and retail businesses this weekend.

“Good contact tracing is important, but certainly in the first few days, you need to try and identify all the cases and try and work out who those contacts are. So having this focused blitz early on is really important and will determine how successful your contact tracing is.”

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