Victoria announced 165 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, with just 30 of those cases linked to known outbreaks and 135 still under investigation. None of the cases were from returned international travellers in hotel quarantine.
Of the total 3,098 cases, 2,723 were from metropolitan Melbourne, while 270 were from regional Victoria. There are now 159 cases linked with public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne which since Saturday had been under a strict police-enforced lockdown, with residents unable to leave the building even for work, groceries or exercise.
Late on Thursday afternoon the premier Daniel Andrews announced all of the towers except Alfred Street in North Melbourne would move to the same restrictions as the rest of metropolitan Melbourne from midnight, meaning they would be allowed out to access essential services and for work, study, exercise and childcare from Friday. However, anyone with the virus will be required to isolate inside their home regardless. All residents of the nine towers subject to the Saturday lockdown have now been offered tests.
Two towers that were under lockdown, on Pampas Street and Melrose Street in North Melbourne, recorded no cases. Andrews said the Alfred Street tower would remain under the strict police-enforced lockdown because “that has very substantial numbers of cases, and potentially close contacts right throughout that tower”.
Six new cases announced in Victoria on Thursday were linked to the Al-Taqwa College outbreak, with the total from that cluster now 113. The state’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, confirmed there was an epidemiological link between the Al-Taqwa outbreak and the towers. “Do we know how it got in? No, we don’t. It is just a link, it might have gone in one direction or the other direction,” he said.
Meanwhile, two healthcare workers at the Royal Melbourne hospital, and two health workers from the Sunshine hospital emergency department, tested positive. One further case was found in a staff member of the Northern hospital in Epping, with that cluster total now at 11, made up of nine staff and two household contacts of staff. There is increasing concern about the number of healthcare workers infected during Victoria’s most recent outbreak.
Further cases have also been linked to aged-care facilities, including two staff members who worked at Menarock Life Aged Care in Essendon. Further aged-care cases include a staff member who attended BaptCare the Orchards Community in Doncaster; a staff member who worked at Benetas St George’s in Altona Meadows; and a staff member who worked at BlueCross Ivanhoe, who all worked while infectious.
Stage 3 “stay at home” restrictions came into force across metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell shire overnight and will stay in force for six weeks. Sutton said on Friday National Cabinet would hear Victoria’s position on masks, with renewed debate over the past few weeks as to whether Victorians should be wearing them during the six week lockdown.
“I think the issue with face masks is that they aren’t perfect, but they provide additional protection for individuals and at a broad community level when there’s high uptake, when you can’t physically distance, it is an important additional measure,” he said. “And right now in Victoria, in metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire in particular, we are trying to use all the conceivable tools to help us.”
Meanwhile, the Victorian government announced daily temperature checks will be introduced in schools across metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell shire every morning from term three, with thermometers also provided to all non-government schools. If a student has a temperature of 37.5C or above, schools will be required to contact parents or carers to arrange for students to return home.
While this is not expected to detect all cases – many children with the virus are asymptomatic – it is an added measure to prevent virus spread, with hygiene, sanitation and staying home and getting tested as soon as any symptoms develop all still critical.