More than 20 Covid-19 cases have now been linked to a popular pub in Sydney’s south-west, with authorities increasingly anxious about the worsening situation in New South Wales.
Meanwhile, some 1,000 ADF personnel are headed for Victoria, where 177 new cases were reported on Monday and more than five million Melburnians remain under stage three restrictions.
A cluster linked to Sydney’s Crossroads Hotel, and confirmation one person tested positive after visiting the city’s Star casino on 4 July, have sparked warnings about the spread of the virus in NSW.
The state’s chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said 21 cases were now linked to the Crossroads Hotel in Casula, which is a popular spot for truck drivers and locals.
Chant said 10 of the cases were people who attended the pub and 11 were the contacts of those patrons.
“You can see that when we have some cases that were contacts of cases, you can see how rapidly Covid-19 can spread,” she said.
Concerns about the spread of the outbreak prompted Chant to release a list of venues stretching from Sydney to Merimbula on the far south coast which have been recently visited by people who have since tested positive for the virus. Dozens of people, including 12 members of the ADF and security staff from the nearby Villawood detention centre, are also in isolation after attending the Crossroads Hotel.
Long queues have been reported at a pop-up testing facility set up outside the pub and Chant said on Monday the site’s opening hours would be extended to cope with the demand.
One patron who attended the hotel last week said there was “in excess of 100” people there – although diners were trying to social distance.
“It was relatively busy considering the circumstances at the moment,” said Lauren, 26, who asked for her surname to be withheld.
“To my knowledge, and what I saw, people were trying their best to participate in social distancing. I can only speak for being in the bistro and the bistro side of the pub.
“I walked in through a door on the side closer to the bistro, there was nobody at the door to greet us. There was no sign-in.”
Chant on Monday said the source of the outbreak at the Crossroads was still unknown but the “hypothesis” was that it was a visitor from Melbourne.
Liquor & Gaming NSW on Monday said it would fine The Star $5,000 for breaching the Covid-19 public health orders “after groups of patrons were observed standing and mingling between groups while consuming alcohol on Saturday night”.
The increasing concern in NSW came as the Victorian government said it would accept 1,000 extra Australian defence force personnel.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has previously argued troops were not always useful in enforcement roles because they did not have the same powers as Victoria police.
But on Monday he said the state government was working through how quickly the troops would arrive and how they would assist police and other officials.
After three consecutive days where new infections exceeded 200, the 177 new cases represented a drop in case numbers, prompting Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, to say he felt a “small bit of optimism”.
“[But] I’m not going to be complacent about today’s number,” Sutton said. “It’s great it’s lower than our peak. But it may not be our peak yet.”
He also warned of a “big outbreak” at Menarock Life aged care home in Essendon, in Melbourne’s north-west, where the facility said 14 residents and 17 staff had tested positive.
“That’s a big outbreak, a number of staff and residents have been infected in that outbreak,” Sutton said.
“That’s been intensively managed, including transfer of some residents to acute care.”
Also on Monday, Sutton told ABC Radio it was “conceivable” that most or all of the current cases from the state’s second wave spike came from one hotel quarantine outbreak.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, confirmed there were now 35 cases linked to aged care facilities across the city.
ADF Major General Paul Kenny on Monday said the Victorian government had accepted the offer of help over the weekend and the defence force was working to ensure “our personnel are available to deploy quickly”.
He said ADF troops were already assisting Victoria police at checkpoints throughout the state and could also be involved in other compliance activities.
Kenny also confirmed 12 RAAF Wagga personnel who are in self-isolation after visiting the Crossroads Hotel have now tested negative, but will stay in self-isolation for the full 14 days as a precaution.
The surge in defence force personnel in Victoria is the latest move aimed at avoiding a full-blown health crisis in Melbourne, with authorities acknowledging contract tracing capabilities are increasingly stretched.
“I can’t rule out we have further limits placed on people’s movement,” Andrews said on Monday.
“As I always said, if we’re planning for it, we’ll share it with the community. That’s in the hands of hard-working Victorians.”
The police issued 131 fines worth a total of $200,000 across Melbourne on Sunday, while public health advice has been updated to encourage residents to use masks.
Hunt said on Monday the federal government would offer five million masks from the national stockpile.
Although year 11 and 12 classes resumed in Victoria on Monday, the government has confirmed students from prep to year 10 will learn from home when their term recommences.
Sutton said on Monday the state’s largest cluster, Al-Taqwa College in the western suburbs, now totalled 144 cases.
The residents of an entire public housing tower in North Melbourne remain in “hard lockdown” meaning they can only leave their building for supervised exercised.