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Victoria Covid update: state in ‘precarious’ position, says health minister

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Diego Fedele/AAP</span>
Photograph: Diego Fedele/AAP

Victoria is in a “precarious position”, the state’s health minister, Martin Foley, said on Friday, with the source of a cluster of cases linked to Hobsons Bay and Maribyrnong areas still unknown, as new exposure sites continue to emerge.

Six locally acquired cases of the virus were announced, which included two cases reported on Thursday, who are contacts of a positive case that lives in the Hobsons Bay area. A further case linked to that outbreak was identified overnight.

A further three new cases are linked to the city of Maribyrnong cluster. One of these is the housemate of the index case for that cluster, a man who works in a warehouse in Derrimut. The housemate is a cleaner who worked at Epworth hospital in Richmond while infectious, but he did not work in the wards, Foley said.

Related: Victoria Covid update: protesters clash with police in Melbourne after snap seven-day lockdown announced

Two of the new Maribyrnong cases are also linked to the Derrimut worker, and are close contacts of that case, who live in a different household. One of them attends the Warringa Park specialist school, “a particularly important school that looks after some of our most vulnerable kids”, Foley said. This person was likely infectious while at the school, he said.

On Friday Victoria entered its first full day of lockdown, triggered by the concerning number of mystery cases, including the Derrimut warehouse worker, and the Hobsons Bay couple, which includes a teacher at Al-Taqwa College in Truganina and a man who works in Caroline Springs. Authorities do not yet know how these cases acquired the virus.

A $400m jointly funded package from the commonwealth and Victorian governments was announced by the industry support minister, Martin Pakula, as the snap lockdown caught businesses off guard.

Automatic payments will be made to almost 100,000 eligible businesses, including sole traders. Further hardship funds will be made available to eligible businesses that do not qualify for existing programs.

The new package follows the $400m package announced last week.

“We’ll make a further round of support under the Alpine business support program of grants between $5,000 and $20,000 that’ll support 430 Alpine businesses, again, in recognition of the specific impact of restrictions during the short paid winter season,” Pakula said.

“In regards to the commonwealth disaster payments, we are awaiting a hotspot declaration from the commonwealth. We believe that will apply to greater Melbourne … As before, for those payments, those outside the hotspot declaration will be funded by the state. And for those within the hotspot declaration, that will be funded by the commonwealth.”

Meanwhile, Virgin flights were added as tier 1 exposure sites after a traveller from Sydney tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Tasmania, having made a stop in Melbourne on the way.

“If you’re on these flights, you need to isolate for 14 days, and of course to get tested immediately,” Foley said.

“The advice is that the positive case entered Melbourne on a valid transit purpose. He was escorted to his transiting flight by the public health compliance team wearing the appropriate PPE for their protection.

“The staff are now having to be furloughed, and are being tested and isolating. As a precaution, my understanding is the person from Sydney was detained in Launceston and tested as part of their arrangements, sent back to Sydney, and his positive case became apparent after he’d already left Tasmania, on the direct flight to Sydney.”

The man did not have a valid border pass to enter Tasmania, the state’s premier, Peter Gutwein, said on Thursday.

“Adding all of this together, Victoria is in a precarious position when it comes to where this particular series of outbreaks are at the moment,” Foley said. “It is in all of our hands to continue to work together with our public health teams to get on top of and ahead of this particular outbreak.

“We have many lines of inquiry, actively underway as to where these new cases have been and what further exposure sites, which continue to become apparent as they come to head.”

Six people are in hospital with Covid-19 in Victoria, two in ICU. Both of those ICU cases are on ventilators. There were 29,631 people tested for the virus on Thursday, and 18,901 people vaccinated.

Victoria’s Covid-19 response commander, Jeroen Weimar, said the list of exposure sites would continue to grow throughout Friday and urged Victorians to regularly check the state department of health website.

Victorian COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar
Victorian Covid-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar. Photograph: Diego Fedele/AAP

“We think exposure sites will spread across a wider part of the city and potentially regional Victoria,” he said.

He said of the Warringa school cases, “we do not at this point have an acquisition source for that cluster. Genomics has confirmed it is a Delta variant, but we’ve got more sequencing to do to establish any match to current clusters within Melbourne, or indeed in Sydney or elsewhere in Australia.”

On the lockdown, Weimar said: “We’re fed up, we’re tired, we’ve all had enough of these lockdowns. But we know that it works.

“Please support one another and those who are doing the hard yards and making difficult decisions … please support those around you and look out for them.”

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