Victoria reports 238 new coronavirus cases and one death as NSW Crossroads cluster worsens

Melissa Davey and Elias Visontay
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Victoria has recorded 238 new cases of Covid-19 and the death of a woman in her 90s and New South Wales has recorded 13 new cases, including 10 linked to the Crossroads hotel cluster in south-west Sydney which has now affected 34 people.

Victoria’s deputy police commissioner, Rick Nugent, outlined a number of breaches of Covid-19 lockdown measures including people refusing to leave KFC restaurants, playing Pokémon Go and poker in groups, and hiding in garages and closets when caught by police on Wednesday.

There are now 105 Victorians in hospital, an increase by 20 from Tuesday, and 27 people are in intensive care. Of the new cases recorded, 209 are still under investigation. The cases have prompted questions about whether tougher restrictions may be needed in Victoria, as Nugent said some people continued to flout lockdown rules.

Related: Coronavirus map Australia: tracking new cases, Covid-19 stats and live data update by state

“Clearly KFC is popular during the lockdown,” Nugent said. “A person ordered KFC and refused to leave the restaurant where they sat to eat. Police attended and the person still refused to leave.”

He added there had been a short-term rental property hired to host a party at Docklands in Melbourne’s city. He said 10 people were fined, but police were later called back to the property where a further 24 fines were issued. Police have issued 546 fines since lockdown began last Wednesday, with playing Pokémon Go and poker among excuses given by people for gathering, Nugent said.

“We’re finding people in cupboards. We’re finding people in garages. Please stop,” Nugent said.

The premier, Daniel Andrews, praised the majority of Victorians for acting appropriately but said a “small minority” could jeopardise public health efforts significantly.

“Anyone who’s not doing the right thing, Victorian police are out in force,” he said. “Victorian police are out there with a very clear agenda to make sure these restrictions work. The time for cutting people slack is over.”

Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said it was still too early to talk about further restrictions, but that they would be considered if case numbers did not improve and people flouted the rules. But he said he believed the current six-week lockdown period was an appropriate period for current restrictions in effect for metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire.

“I honestly don’t know how likely it is to step up [restrictions] or the opportunities to step down,” he said. “We have set that six-week period because I am absolutely confident that that is length of time that is required to get those case numbers down.” He said he hoped new cases would continue to drop over coming days but warned numbers could prove “explosive” if people did not follow lockdown measures.

The outbreak has also begun affecting health workers in Melbourne hospitals. On Wednesday it was revealed that six staff affiliated with Melbourne’s Royal Women’s hospital, and five workers at the Royal Children’s hospital were among those who have tested positive for the virus.

The continued lockdown in Victoria prompted AFL chief executive Gil McLachlan to announce on Wednesday that the league’s Victorian teams will be based in Queensland for up to 10 weeks. McLachlan said the move would cost the league “in the ball park” of $3m a week.

The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, made a pitch to also host the AFL grand final in the state. McLachlan said the prospect of moving the game’s showpiece had not been discussed, but admitted that “clearly people will draw bows” from the relocation of all Victorian clubs to Queensland.

“The grand final is at the MCG until there are circumstances and reasons that it can’t be,” McLachlan told reporters. “And then we will make a different decision. But we’re not talking about that today.”

The federal health minister Greg Hunt said he was particularly concerned by the cases in aged care homes in Victoria, with 32 aged care facilities affected. But all community cases in NSW were associated with the Crossroads hotel in Casula, he said, which he said the deputy chief medical officer had told him was “heartening”. An additional 500,000 masks would be provided to aged care homes in Casula and surrounding areas.

“New South Wales is stable and while the numbers remain a concern … the speed and focus of the tracing program is heartening,” he said. “Turning to Victoria … these numbers are stable but deeply concerning. It is a very high level, a concerning level, but nevertheless there is an element of stability. It is too early to say whether it will remain stable. We are in, as Melburnians, as Victorians, the great fight of our lives.”

Meanwhile, the NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, urged staff and patrons from the Crossroads hotel who attended the Planet Fitness gym in Casula between 4 July and 10 July to self-isolate and seek testing as they are considered close contacts of that cluster. Two further cases were linked to the gym on Tuesday night, which had its first case from a patron from the Crossroads hotel. Chant listed new venues of concern where Crossroads hotel cases had visited including the YMCA Revesby, the Western Sydney leagues club, Woolworths Bowral and Casula Kmart.

The NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, said the public should “expect that we will have transmission from time to time and that’s just the way it is. We’ve got to accept that this is the new world order.”

NSW Health contact tracer Jennie Musto said there was a genomic link between the Victoria and the NSW outbreak – a man travelling from Melbourne to Sydney at the end of June.

Related: Victoria and Melbourne coronavirus map: where Covid-19 cases are rising or falling

“A man from Melbourne came into a workplace in Sydney, and then there’s some transmission within that workplace and then they all went to a party that night of the third of July, at the Crossroads hotel,” she said. “So this is where it all began.”

She said he travelled on 30 June, and works in the freight industry.

Chant said while the Crossroads hotel cluster was important, “it is very important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that Covid could have been introduced in any other parts of Sydney, and we may well have had transmission of the virus just continuing”.

Musto said the Melbourne freight worker was not the Blue Mountains man, but that they both attended the Crossroads hotel on 3 July.

Meanwhile all of greater metropolitan Sydney and all of Victoria have been declared by the Northern Territory as hotspots and borders will remain closed to those areas while reopening to other states and territories on Friday.