Victoria has recorded 191 new cases of coronavirus – its worst figure yet – as the government prepares to lock down the entire state for a month.
Sources have told The Australian that Premier Daniel Andrews will issue stay-at-home orders for 6.5million Victorians as the outbreak spirals out of control with 35 people in hospital and nine fighting for their lives.
Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton confirmed 37 new cases are linked to outbreaks and 154 are under investigation, bringing the state’s total to 2,824 cases.
Thirteen new cases are linked to nine Melbourne tower blocks which have suffered 69 cases and been placed under hard lockdown since Saturday, meaning residents cannot leave for any reason without special approval.
Pictures from the housing commission blocks today show firefighters dressed in hazmat suits preparing to enter the buildings to deliver milk and bread while dozens of police stand guard outside.
It comes as police and soldiers set up road blocks and drones along the 1,000km-long New South Wales-Victoria border before it is shut down at midnight tonight for the first time since Spanish Flu struck in 1919.
Victoria’s new case total is the second-highest of any state after New South Wales recorded 212 new cases on 28 March during the peak of the pandemic in Australia.
But many of those were returned travellers and their close contacts, meaning the Victoria outbreak is far more dangerous and a ‘threat to the nation’ because the cases are transmitting rapidly among the local community.
Precautions: Firefighters dressed in personal protective equipment prepare to distribute food throughout a public housing tower in North Melbourne
Police presence: Nine public housing towers blocks including 3,000 residents have been put under hard lockdown, meaning they cannot leave for any reason. Pictured: Police at a housing block in North Melbourne
Delivery: The Melbourne Public Tenants Association, on behalf of the 3000 residents in the Flemington and North Melbourne estates, say residents have been left in the dark over enforced hard lockdown. Pictured: Firemen deliver bread
Under pressure: Premier Daniel Andrews (pictured) held a meeting of the COVID-19 Crisis Council of Cabinet to discuss further lockdowns
Earlier today federal health minister Greg Hunt said broadening the lockdown in Victoria was on the table.
‘I don’t think that anybody can rule out that if the disease continues to spread, there could be further restrictions,’ he told the Nine’s Today show.
‘I think it’s very important to be open and honest about that. At this stage, again, it appears primarily urban Victoria.
‘But we actually have to respond to the facts as they occur and we’ve always identified this notion of rings of containment, of isolating the hotspots and then working out from there.’
This graph shows how community transmission has soared
His comments came as:
- New South Wales recorded seven new virus cases, including a Newcastle man released from quarantine
- Queensland reported its first case in more than two weeks, a returned solider in hotel quarantine
- The federal government agreed to cap numbers flying into Western Australia at 525 a week
- WA, the ACT and the NT recorded zero new cases
Four of Victoria’s new cases related to an outbreak among emergency department staff at Northern Hospital Epping, which now totals eight staff and one household contact.
The emergency department remains open with a temporary reduction in non-urgent elective surgery and outpatient appointments.
A new case has also been confirmed in a staff member at the Assisi aged care facility in Rosanna, in Melbourne’s northeast.
The staff member did not work while infectious and widespread testing of staff and residents at the facility will begin on Tuesday.
Staff undertaking contact tracing in the north Melbourne are finding that some patients are reluctant to share their close contacts, according to the Herald-Sun.
The newspaper reports that in some cases residents have been told by officials they are a close contact as long as five days after they met a confirmed patient.
Meanwhile, residents of the nine locked-down towers said they feel let down by a lack of communication, food and supplies. Some have complained they have had to go hungry because officials have not brought them enough to eat.
The Melbourne Public Tenants Association, on behalf of the residents in the Flemington and North Melbourne estates, say residents have been left in the dark since the state government’s hard lockdown was enforced on Saturday.
Victoria’s new case total is the second-highest of any state after New South Wales recorded 212 new cases on 28 March. Pictured: Firefighters distribute milk and bread to tower block residents
Earlier today federal health minister Greg Hunt said broadening the lockdown in Victoria was on the table. Pictured: Firefighers in hazmat suits and police at a north Melbourne tower block
Since last Monday Victoria has detected 632 new patients, only 14 of whom are returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine. Pictured: Police at a Melbourne housing estate
Helpers arrive with food in shopping trollies which will be distributed by firefighters throughout a public housing tower in North Melbourne
A firefighter is seen wearing personal protective equipment prior to distributing food throughout a public housing tower in North Melbourne
Workers unload food and provisions from the back of a ute which will be distributed by firefighters throughout a public housing tower in North Melbourne
Where are Victoria’s new coronavirus cases?
* 13 infections relate to the North Melbourne and Flemington public housing towers, with the total now 69
* 12 new cases are linked to the Al-Taqwa College outbreak, bringing that total to 90
* Four new cases have been linked to the Northern Hospital in Epping, with the total now nine.
* One case linked to Aitken Hill Primary School in Craigieburn with that outbreak now at 10
* The remaining new cases are linked to existing family clusters in Truganina, Patterson Lakes/Lysterfield, Fawkner and Sunshine West
* One new case has also been confirmed in a staff member at the Assisi Aged Care facility in Rosanna, who did not work while infectious
In a letter to the federal Acting Chief Medical Officer, Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services, Premier Andrews and Victoria Police, the association describes how residents were forced to wait 24 hours for food and other essentials like baby formula, nappies and medication.
When the food arrived it was ‘at best, questionable pre-packaged meat-like food items that do not look suitable for human consumption’.
‘Furthermore, the delivery of the food was tossed to the floor on a single piece of paper in front of the residents’ apartment doors in small portions of one food item per household,’ the letter said.
As Victoria battles a snowballing outbreak, NSW reported seven new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday from 9,746 tests, including a man who tested negative in hotel quarantine before returning home to Newcastle on Sunday and developing respiratory symptoms. He and his close contacts have been placed into isolation.
The other six cases were in travellers in hotel quarantine. Two probable coronavirus cases are being investigated in the Albury area after returning positive results on preliminary testing in the Murrumbidgee Local Health District.
Health officials said the two cases were undergoing further testing but had not yet been included in the state’s confirmed case load.
One suspected case had recently been to Melbourne but returned before hotspot travel restrictions came into force.
NSW Health is setting up a pop-up clinic in Albury from Tuesday and is urging residents in the area with even mild symptoms to get tested.
Queensland recorded its first case of the virus in two weeks on Tuesday, a soldier who returned from overseas and tested positive in hotel quarantine.
Residents look from a window at one of nine public housing estates locked down due a spike in COVID-19 coronavirus numbers in Melbourne
Victoria’s staggering rise in locally acquired coronavirus cases is unprecedented. Pictured: Covid testing in Melbourne on Monday
Workers in hazardous material overalls are seen outside of a public housing tower along Racecourse Road, Melbourne that was placed under lockdown due to the coronavirus disease
Healthcare workers carry boxes to high rise housing commission on Sunday during lockdown
Since last Monday Victoria has detected 823 new infections, only 14 of whom are returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.
This is radically different from the spike in cases across several states in late March and early April which saw large numbers of returning Australians test positive.
Locally acquired cases are more dangerous because the patients are not in quarantine and can more easily transmit the virus around the community.
Paul Komesaroff, Professor of Medicine at Monash University, told Daily Mail Australia the situation in Victoria, where 12 postcodes have been put back into lockdown, is alarming.
‘It is an extremely dangerous situation and the safety of the entire country is at stake,’ he said.
‘Clearly there is a major problem that has required draconian measures which should be supported by Victorians to protect their safety.
Professor Komesaroff said he supported the border shut downs and localised lockdown measures which have proved successful in other countries such as South Korea and Singapore.
‘This a very different situation that we haven’t seen previously and we have to do what he have to do,’ he said.
Police have been patrolling the commission flats at 120 Racecourse Road in Flemington as 3,000 residents are in hard lockdown
Former Labor leader and MP for Maribyrnong, Bill Shorten, delivers food to the Flemington Towers Government Housing on Monday
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the situation was ‘very different’ to the previous spike earlier this year.
‘The vast majority of cases that New South Wales and other states were experiencing were from overseas travellers or the direct contacts,’ she said.
‘All of the cases that the Premier Andrews announced today are from community transmission.
‘This is unprecedented in Australia. That is why the decision of the New South Wales Government [to shut the border] is unprecedented. We have not seen anything like this.’
There are 55 NSW-Victoria border crossings over more than 1,000 kilometres and they will be manned by police and soldiers with drones and road blocks when the border is shut from 12.01am tonight.
Anyone entering NSW from Victoria without a permit will be fined $11,000 and could face six months in jail.
‘There is no excuse’: Gladys Berejiklian demands open borders with all states except Victoria
After closing the border to Victoria. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has consistently argued against border closures, said other states have ‘no excuse’ for excluding residents of NSW, which recorded only 10 new cases on Monday, all from hotel quarantine.
‘I also stress to the other states, now that New South Wales has taken this decision and given where we are, there is really no excuse for any other state, apart from Victoria, to have any border closures with New South Wales,’ she said.
‘I urge all the other states of Australia, in our national interest, to think about that.
Premier Gladys Berejikian has demanded that all states and territories except Victoria open their borders with New South Wales
‘Given this move by the New South Wales Government, we now anticipate that the rest of the nation will be able to deal with each other directly without any hard border closures.’
Queensland is due to remove its hard border on 10 July except to Victorians while the Northern Territory is due to open up on the 17 July, except to residents from Melbourne hotspots.
South Australia said it would open up to eastern states on 20 July but has postponed that decision due to the Victorian outbreak.
Tasmania is targeting the 24 July but said it will ‘keep an eye’ on developments, while WA is yet to announce any relaxation of border measures.
Last month Ms Berejiklian slammed the Queensland government for refusing to open its borders to boost the economy.
Asked if she felt ‘silly’ because she was now herself shutting the NSW-VIC border she said ‘not at all’ because the situation in Victoria is ‘very different’ as it involves widespread community transmission.