Another Victorian aged care facility has been sent into lockdown amid virus fears as authorities reveal some new positive cases have emerged after “very fleeting contact” with infected strangers.
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Another Victorian aged care facility has been sent into full lockdown amid coronavirus exposure fears.
Menarock Life Aged Care facility in Heathmont sent an email to staff on Tuesday evening alerting them to the coronavirus scare.
“We have a staff (member) who has been identified as a primary contact of a confirmed case,” residential manager Nellie Wang said in an email seen by the Herald Sun.
“I understand how stressful it can be, but I assure you we are doing everything possible to minimise any effect on our close-knit community.
“I have been advised by the Victorian department of health Greenway Gardens should enter a full lockdown of the entire facility immediately.
“All residents (are) required to be isolated in their rooms until further notice.”
Ms Wang added any staff that had worked on May 31 between 7am to 3pm “should be furloughed immediately until cleared by the department after the primary close contact has returned a negative COVID-19 test result.”
Staff were instructed to wear tier 3 PPE for all interactions with residents, to cease all new admissions into the facility and to avoid using nebulisers.
They were also told to stop working across multiple facilities if they were currently doing so.
“All internal staff should cease working across multiple facilities and should be cohorted to only work in the same location or wing during and across shifts where possible,” the memo said.
It comes after alarming details of “stranger-to-stranger” transmissions were revealed, with authorities saying people were becoming infected after just “brushing past” strangers with Covid.
Testing commander Jeroen Weimar said authorities were particularly concerned about a handful of cases who were infected after instances of “very fleeting contact”.
“We have transmission in places like the Telstra Store in South Melbourne, JMD Grocers (Epping), the Mickleham display home and Craigieburn shopping ,” he said.
“They are all examples of transmission with very limited contact. (With previous variants), we are used to transmission reoccurring in the home, in the workplace, where people know each other already — not all of those big social settings.
“These are quite different, they are fleeting contact.”
At least four cases involve stranger-to-stranger infections.
Public health experts are investigating what appears to be transmission from short interactions in venues such as shopping s, community groceries and markets.
“What we’re seeing now is people are brushing past each other in a small shop, they are going to a display home, they are looking at photos in a Telstra shop,” Mr Weimar said.
“This is relatively speaking, relatively fleeting. They do not know each other’s names, and that is very different from what we have been before.”
Anyone who has visited small street-side grocery stores in the City of Whittlesea area including Epping, Wollert, and Craigieburn — or inside a shopping or a market, such as Footscray Market or Dandenong Market — is being urged to check the exposure sites and get tested if they were present at the specified times.
Anyone who has visited the following locations over past seven to 14 days is urged to get tested if they show any symptoms:
• Craigieburn Central
• Bay and Graham Streets, Port Melbourne
• Clarendon St and South Melbourne Market, South Melbourne
• Pacific Epping (aka Epping Plaza) and Epping North Shopping Centre
• High St, Epping
• Station St, Lalor
• Broadway, Reservoir
• Footscray Market
• Dandenong Market
• Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre and Stockland Point Cook
Victoria is grappling with the outbreak, which now includes 54 infections.
Three new cases were announced on Tuesday, with the six infections revealed on Monday also added to the daily tally.
“It is … certainly the fastest moving outbreak we’ve seen anywhere in Australia for a long time. I’m not taking this lightly,” Mr Weimar said.
Two of the newest cases are primary close contacts who were already quarantining during their infectious period.
The third case is under active investigation, with Health Minister Martin Foley confirming that case is not a known contact with any links, but the person had been in “very close” proximity to a number of exposure sites.
“We’re confident that the investigation that is ongoing will uncover further proximity points,” Mr Foley said.
No new positive cases have been detected at aged care facilities BlueCross or Arcare; however, both facilities remain under strict lockdown.
VICTORIANS URGED TO OBEY ISOLATION ORDERS
A “small handful” of people have been found not to have been at home quarantining despite strict isolation orders, Victorian health authorities have revealed.
Department of Health testing commander Jeroen Weimar said out of just under 5000 people a “small handful” of Victorians were “not quite complying”.
“They will be followed through and dealt with as appropriate,” he told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.
“It is so important that the 4800 primary close contacts we now have continue a safe and effective isolation.”
VACCINE BLITZ FOR AGED CARE, DISABILITY WORKERS
A five-day vaccination blitz will begin on Wednesday after workers and a resident at Melbourne aged care facilities tested positive to Covid this week.
People who work in vulnerable settings, including disability and aged care, will be given priority access at walk-in vaccination hubs from June 2 to 6, between 9am and 4pm.
Aged Care Minister Luke Donnellan said aged care and disability workers needed to be prioritised in the rollout.
“All dedicated and hardworking aged care and disability workers need easy access to the vaccine, so we’re making it easier for them,” he said.
“This is very much about trying to stimulate that demand.”
The participating hubs are: Royal Exhibition Building; Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre; Melbourne Showgrounds; Sandown Racecourse; Former Ford Factory, Geelong; Mercure Ballarat Hotel and Convention Centre; Bendigo Community Clinic; Wodonga Vaccination Hub; Shepparton Showgrounds; and Traralgon Racecourse.
Mr Donnellan said state authorities were forced to step in and offer the priority access amid fears of insufficient coverage in those vulnerable settings.
“This is very much a call to arms of those workers on the frontline to come out,” he said.
“We will give you a priority lane so it makes it quicker and easier to get through it in a speedier time, because we very much want to ensure we are protecting those people and the aged care facilities and disability sector from Covid-19.
“Separately, we will set up enhanced accessibility s for people with disabilities in residential care.”
MAIDSTONE TESTING SITE BACKLOG CLEARS
Waiting times at the Covid drive-through testing clinic located just minutes from Arcare’s Maidstone facility have finally dropped.
Throughout Tuesday morning the queue of cars trying to get into the site spilled out onto the road, stretching back more than 200m.
The backlog was cleared by the afternoon — freeing up Hampstead Rd — and the Health Department has advised people to expect a wait time of 30 minutes.
Other sites are still under pressure though, with the testing clinics at Sunshine Hospital, Deer Park’s IPC Health, Northern Health’s Craigieburn Centre, Montague St in South Melbourne and Akoonah Park in Berwick not accepting any more people.
There’s a two hour wait at other sites — including Northern Hospital, Victoria University’s St Alban’s campus and West Sunshine’s community .
But there are still plenty of clinics with shorter waiting times across Melbourne, and motorists at busy sites have been encouraged to drive to nearby, quieter locations.
People can check out the closest clinics near them with the shortest waiting times using this table: https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/covid-19-testing-sites
GRIM LOCKDOWN WARNING
A longer lockdown is appearing increasingly likely amid grim warnings that Victoria’s growing Covid-19 outbreak could “get worse before it gets better”.
Health authorities warned they were “neck and neck” with the fast-moving superstrain, as tracers grapple with hundreds of exposure sites and thousands of close contacts.
Acting Premier James Merlino refused to rule out extending the lockdown, due to end on Friday.
He said that decision would depend not just on case number but the “type of cases”, including whether they were in a high-risk setting and linked to other known infections.
“There is no doubt the situation is incredibly serious,” Mr Merlino said. “The next few days remain critical … this outbreak may well get worse before it gets better.”
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said the lockdown was being reviewed “day by day” but that the latest cases, particularly in aged care, were concerning.
“We are neck and neck with this virus, and it is an absolute beast,” Prof Sutton said. “It has been a rapidly moving virus and the transmission that has occurred in those high-risk settings has been very substantial.
“We could get reassuring news … but we’ve had some stuff come to us in the last 48 hours that’s very concerning.”
Business leaders called for greater clarity on when restrictions would ease, saying the best support the government could offer would be to allow them to trade.
“Business wants as much notice as possible that the lockdown will finish on Friday, but even no notice period is preferable to remaining closed,” Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Paul Guerra said. “When this lockdown is lifted, we need to snap back to the conditions we had on Monday of last week to give Victorian business a decent start out of the blocks to economic recovery.”
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said it seemed clear the lockdown would last “a lot longer” than seven days.
“It’s a very concerning day for Victorians. The pretty clear message is that we can’t look forward to restrictions being eased on Friday,” he said.
Hundreds of shoppers have been forced into isolation with the Brimbank Shopping Centre on the corner of Neale and Station Roads in Deer Park, now listed as a Tier 2 exposure site. Anyone who was at the on Friday must get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result.
Anyone who went to the food court on that day is considered particularly high risk – with that area considered a Tier 1 exposure site – and should get tested immediately and isolate for 14 days regardless of the result.
Prof Sutton refused to rule out the return of the “ring of steel” to separate Melbourne and regional Victoria, were the lockdown to be isolated to the metropolitan regions.
But police association secretary Wayne Gatt told the Herald Sun he was against the ring of steel being reinstated.
“It provided a deterrent on major freeways but left opportunities on other access roads for people who wanted to breach the regulations to do so quite easily,” Mr Gatt said.
“To put further police at checkpoints would dramatically affect our ability to manage other responses and bring an already strained force to an unsustainable level.”
With no confirmed cases in the regions, country areas have called for restrictions there to be eased. “It (the ring of steel) is not out of the question, it’s not locked in,” Prof Sutton said.
ANGER AT LOOSE NURSING HOME RULES
Prof Sutton on Monday took aim at the federal government for allowing aged care facilities in the state to commission work across multiple sites.
The commonwealth on Friday belatedly advised workers to not work across multiple homes, but the instruction was not mandatory.
Professor Sutton said the Victorian government had implemented measures to combat workers being able to attend multiple sites.
“It is massively risky to move across different settings,” Professor Sutton said.
“There needs to be support and policy settings to minimise that to the fullest extent possible.”
Three cases reported on Monday were linked to an outbreak at Arcare Maidstone in the city‘s northwest after a worker at the facility – a mystery case – returned a positive result on Sunday.
An Arcare Maidstone resident, a woman in her 90s, is among them and has been moved to hospital with mild symptoms.
The development has authorities worried after 600 people died in aged care during Victoria’s second wave last year.
There is an overlap at a second aged care facility, Blue Cross, in Sunshine, with one employee reported to have worked shifts at both facilities.
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