Coronavirus cases in Victoria rise to more than 400 as Minister warns ‘thousands’ could die
Victorian health authorities are warning millions of Victorians could contract coronavirus and “thousands” could die if the public does not abide by social-distancing measures designed to slow the spread of the virus.
The state’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos appealed to retired health workers to return to the workforce as the state experiences a “significant” increase in patients requiring hospitalisation.
She said more than 100 retired nurses and paramedics had already responded to callouts, and encouraged others to register their willingness to assist through their union.
“I would encourage any other healthcare worker who has retired, who hasn’t been practising for some time, to assist us in this challenging time.”
Ms Mikakos said the state had entered a wartime mentality, as it prepared for the possibility of manufacturing respirators and equipment that it had never previously had the ability to produce.
Victoria confirmed 64 new cases of COVID-19 overnight, bringing the state’s total to 411.
The cases range in age from pre-school age to late eighties.
Among these are 12 people who are being treated in hospital, including two patients in intensive care.
More than 25,000 Victorians have been tested to date, and 113 people have recovered, the Department of Health and Human Services said.
Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said the epidemic was following a curve that made him “uncomfortable” and under a worst-case scenario, millions of Victorians could be infected and hundreds of thousands could require hospitalisation at the peak of the epidemic.
“We’re still on an epidemic trajectory,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“We’re still heading to 10,000 cases in another week. I don’t want us to be there.
“This is the time to make a difference on the curve.
“If you wait for really significant numbers, it escapes your ability to contact everyone … [and] their close contacts to make sure everyone gets quarantined.”
Ms Mikakos said some of the most severe modelling suggested “thousands” of Victorians could die, but she stressed the state was not locked into that outcome.
“I’m pleading with Victorians, all of our fate is in all of our hands collectively,” she said.
“We can reduce the number of lives lost if we all do the right thing.”
Ms Mikakos encouraged people to wash their hands frequently, limit contact with others as much as possible and only go out when necessary, such as to buy groceries or receive medical treatment.
The Minister said the 41 cases in regional Victoria highlighted the need for rural communities to take the pandemic seriously.
“People in regional communities should not think that this is just a problem that is exclusive to Melbourne. This is spreading throughout our state.”
She said Victoria was not interested in closing the state’s borders, citing the impact such a move would have on cross-border communities such as Albury-Wodonga.
Ms Mikakos said the Government would not hesitate to exercise those powers if needed.
She did not rule out whether some of the authoritarian measures taken to quell the spread of the virus in China, which included police standing guard outside apartment buildings to prevent people leaving, could be introduced here.
“In a social democracy I know that these types of things are very challenging, we are accustomed to our democratic rights and freedoms,” she said.
“But we now need to think about our lives in a very different way.”
She estimated it was down to just 10-15 per cent of what it normally is.
“It’s eerie in the city. It’s the quietest I’ve ever seen it,” she said.
“In one way it shows us people are listening to the health advice, in other ways this is heartbreaking when we see businesses still trying to open their doors.”
Schools to remain open for children of essential workers
Earlier, Premier Daniel Andrews said he was aware of groups of people not adhering to social-distancing guidelines.
“Victorians need to work hard to keep their distance … and not go out and live their life like this is something to ignore. This is a really, really significant issue,” he told Triple M on Tuesday.
“This is not just about frail, elderly people, it’s people in their 30s and 40s. There’s international evidence that people have died much younger. That should be enough to motivate everybody to do the right thing.”
Asked why Victoria was not on a complete lockdown yet, Mr Andrews said the Government took “a very, very big step” on Monday.
“There will be a step two, possibly a step three,” he said.
What must close in Victoria:
- Pubs, clubs, hotels, bars and nightclubs that supply alcohol under a general licence (but bottleshops, takeaway meals and accommodation can continue)
- Indoor sporting centres
- “A cinema, nightclub or entertainment venue of any kind”
- Restaurants and cafes (but takeaways and deliveries can continue)
- Places of worship (but weddings and funerals can continue)
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino told the ABC that while school holidays had been brought forward, schools had not been closed.
He said “principals, leadership teams and some teachers” would remain at the 1,500 public schools across Victoria to provide care for vulnerable children and children whose parents were essential workers.
“This week … many parents may not be able to provide childcare arrangements because children should have still been in school,” he said.
Mr Merlino also said the State Government was working with childcare provider Outside School Hours Care (OSHcare) to provide care for vulnerable children and the children of essential workers from next week when school holidays were due to begin.
“We are providing an extended holiday program this week and looking at what we can provide during the term one holidays,” he said.
Mr Merlino said essential workers would include those in the health sector, emergency services, and industries such as those manufacturing ventilators.
“It will be broad,” he said.
Mr Merlino added it was likely Victoria’s General Achievement Test (GAT) for Year 12 students would have to be moved from June to later in the year, which could also throw out the timing of final VCE exams.
“We’re likely to have to move [the GAT] until later in the year. It is possible that we’ll need to move exams at a later point, but it’s too early to say,” he said.
Public transport getting ‘extra’ scrub
As social-distancing measures ramp up, fewer and fewer people are taking public transport in Melbourne.
Jeroen Weimar, the head of transport services at the Department of Transport, said people still using the city’s trains, trams and buses would notice it was not the normal crush during the daily commute.
“We’ve seen a really big drop in normal patronage as, we think, people are listening to the advice from the Department of Health and only making those journeys that are really important to them,” he said.
He said those who were travelling could be assured the trains, trams, buses and stations are getting an extra deep clean every night to make the system is safe for commuters.
All contact points, including doors and poles are being cleaned, there is additional “top-up” cleaning throughout the day and extra cleaning at stations, Mr Weimar said.
A police operation to enforce the State’s Government’s measures to limit the spread of the virus will be rolled out across Victoria in coming days.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent said individuals found to be breaching the Government’s directives faced fines of $20,000, while companies could be fined up to $100,000.
“Where people are blatantly disregarding the restrictions, or breaching the requirements on multiple occasions, Victoria Police will take action,” he said.
Deputy Commissioner Nugent added that police would use videoconferencing technology to check that people were meeting self-isolation requirements.
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The normally busy Chadstone Shopping Centre, in Melbourne’s south-east, was a virtual ghost town on the first day of the school holidays.
The major supermarkets and fresh food markets were still open but food halls were closed and many retailers had closed their doors.
Some retail staff said they fully expected most stores to eventually be closed.
Meanwhile, a case of coronavirus that sparked the evacuation of National Australia Bank’s headquarters in Melbourne last week has turned out to be fake.
The building at 700 Bourke Street in Docklands was evacuated of its 6,000 occupants last week, after a NAB employee reported testing positive to COVID-19.
The 15-floor building was sanitised as a result and staff were told to work from home.
In an email to staff on Monday, the bank said the test result appeared to have been falsified and the person would not be returning to the company.
Thousands of Victorians plunged into unemployment
People on Tuesday morning once again queued in long lines outside Centrelink to apply for government benefits.
Megan Hennessy began lining up outside the Centrelink office in Fitzroy at 6:30am after being let go from her job at a school canteen and her second job at Melbourne Aquarium.
“I tried to [apply] online but it’s just too difficult. I was working seven days a week, so to know I have nothing now is hard. It’s very hard. It’s very scary,” she said.
“It’s hard not knowing when it’s going to end.”
“We need to talk to people at Centrelink just to feel good that we know something is happening, that we will get something at some time.”
She said the number of people lining up around the block was “crazy”.
“Everyone is in the same position. Everyone has lost their job. It’s a surreal feeling. I haven’t slept all night.”
Benny Rogers, 40, lined up outside Centrelink on Monday but didn’t get to file an application for support because the queue was so long.
He said he was trying to be positive and had already applied for a job at Woolworths.
“I’ve been working for the Department of Education and I’ve been let go,” he said. “So I’m here to hopefully get on the system.”