Victoria has recorded three new coronavirus cases linked to its Melbourne restaurant cluster, as the number of coronavirus exposure sites continues to grow.
- Active cases in Victoria total 36 as a hairdresser becomes the latest exposure site
- Chadstone Shopping Centre confirmed a worker there has tested positive
- The Acting Premier says it’s too early to talk of easing restrictions
The three cases were close contacts linked to the Black Rock Restaurant outbreak and were in isolation when they tested positive for the virus, Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) said.
A fourth case, a returned international traveller in hotel quarantine, was also recorded in the 24 hours to midnight on Sunday, DHHS said.
Victoria’s list of exposure sites, which is available on the DHHS website, now includes five dates for the Grape and Grain Liquor Cellars in Moorabbin, where a positive case worked.
The Melbourne Central Lion Hotel has also been added, and two inner-Melbourne hospitality venues, Left Bank Melbourne and Rockpool Bar and Grill in Southbank, have been upgraded to the higher category of exposure site.
DHHS says anyone who has visited these sites during the window of exposure listed on the website should get tested immediately and self-isolate for 14 days.
A hairdresser at McKinnon, in Melbourne’s south-east, along with shops in Camberwell, Lakes Entrance, Bentleigh and Box Hill South were also added to the list of exposure sites today.
On Facebook, Grape and Grain said all other staff members had tested negative.
DHHS COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said on Sunday it was important Victorians continued to check the website, as authorities would be updating it in close to real-time as new locations were revealed in contact tracing interviews.
“If that means there’s a typo in the name of the cafe, then I apologise for that,” he said, when asked about some sites where exposure times, dates or details were changed.
Chadstone Shopping Centre has revealed a worker from the centre’s Boost Juice store outside Bonds had returned a positive test for COVID-19, although the store is not among the DHHS exposure sites.
The centre said the team member had last worked on-site on December 29, between 6:00pm and 11:00pm.
It is not clear if this case is among the state’s previously recorded cases, or will be included in DHHS’s update tomorrow.
All of the state’s cases announced by authorities over the new year period have been linked to the Black Rock restaurant cluster, which sits at 24 cases.
“We are seeing all of the positive cases that are emerging coming out of the close contact field,” Mr Weimar told radio station 3AW on Monday afternoon.
“So we are progressing through that outbreak on a very positive trajectory, but we have to play our part to stay on top of it.”
Healthcare staff return to staff testing sites
Victoria processed 32,468 test results on Sunday, up from more than 22,000 on Saturday and 18,000 on Friday.
Waiting times stretched to five hours at several testing sites over the weekend, before a large number of healthcare staff arrived back from end-of-year leave to staff more sites on Monday.
The longest estimated waits mid-Monday afternoon were at testing sites at Chadstone, Sunbury and Springers Leisure Centre in Keysborough, all of which had waiting times of two hours or more.
By contrast, other sites had projected waiting times of around 30 minutes, with authorities encouraging people check wait times on the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) website before heading out.
No detailed information was given on the three latest cases or how they are linked to the cluster at a morning press conference held by Acting Premier Jacinta Allan.
The Acting Premier said it was too early to talk about an easing of restrictions, despite the low case numbers in Victoria and New South Wales, which registered zero new cases today.
“That decision on borders, and indeed all other restrictions like the wearing of masks and limits on numbers of people in family homes, that will be guided by the public health advice and will be based on the numbers, and yes the numbers here in Victoria today are a very strong set of numbers of course,” Ms Allan said.
Government defends testing site delays
The Opposition’s David Davis said the Government had 10 months to put plans in place for a potential outbreak over the Christmas–new year period.
“We’re still seeing cases over the last few days, a massive number of cases of people who have been impacted, are unable to get tests in a timely way,” he said.
Ms Allan defended the arrangements for dealing with the surge in demand for tests caused by the return of about 60,000 people from New South Wales, saying health staff had been called back from their holidays to work at testing centres.
She said 86 per cent of tests were being processed within 24 hours and many workers staffing the sites had made sacrifices to be there.
“They’ve given up their holidays, they’ve given up their precious time with families to come back and undertake this testing program,” she said.
“I think that demonstrates that there were arrangements in place that should we need to gear up and gear up quickly, we could do that, and I do think it’s important to note that in order to be able to do that we’ve relied on people who have worked so damn hard during 2020 to keep our community safe.”
Ms Allan said close contacts of known cases were being given priority in the testing system and she encouraged people to check the DHHS website for waiting times before going to a testing centre.
Epidemiologist says having ‘trained people on standby’ is essential
Epidemiologist Catherine Bennett, from Deakin University, said authorities should have had staff on standby for the surge in demand for tests as soon as community transmission was picked up in Sydney.
“You sometimes just don’t get notice, it can happen really quickly as it did in the Northern Beaches or Sydney, so we’ve just got to make that sacrifice to put those resources in, to make sure we’ve got enough trained people on standby that we can call on and mobilise really quickly so that we’re making the testing itself as accessible and as quick a turnaround in terms of the lab time as we possibly can,” she said.
“We should be investing in surge capacity, and even though it might seem like a poor spend of health money in quiet times, we just need to be able to step up really quickly, when the need is there.
“I think we are calling people back from leave, but equally if we had more people on, we had greater capacity, it would just help both leave people on leave but also respond much faster.”
On Sunday, the Victorian Government extended the state of emergency, which gives legal power to the Chief Health Officer’s directives, to January 29.
Potential legal action over Australian Open hotel plan
The Acting Premier defended arrangements at one of the hotels due to house Australian Open tennis players, amid claims of a potential legal challenge by permanent residents of the hotel.
The Age newspaper reported that the owners of 36 penthouse apartments at The Westin Melbourne are contemplating Supreme Court action, claiming the arrival of international tennis players puts their health at risk.
Ms Allan said The Westin was subjected to rigorous assessment before being approved as a venue to host the players.
“There are very strict and strong infection prevention and control measures put in place for each and every venue that is associated with either the Australian Open or our hotel quarantine more broadly,” she said.
“The very clear advice is that arrangements will be put in place where there is no contact between the existing residents and people staying associated with the Australian Open.”
“There are separate entrances, there are separate floors, there are floor monitors on every floor, there’s a 24/7 Victoria Police presence, associated with every venue.”