A fresh outbreak of coronavirus has forced a Melbourne meat processing facility to close. Victoria has seen another spike, with seven coronavirus new cases amid a testing blitz across the state.
A fresh cluster of coronavirus has broken out at a Melbourne meat processing plant, with seven new cases confirmed overnight.
Of those seven new patients, three are linked to the facility, where eight people in total have tested positive.
The workplace has been closed and there are no current concerns about food safety, health minister Jenny Mikakos said.
“Testing for all staff is being conducted as well as contact tracing of any confirmed cases,” she said.
“The business has been closed and is being thoroughly cleaned.”
Today’s new cases also include one person in hotel quarantine and bring the state’s total to 1371.
It comes as testing ramps up across the state, with eight new mobile testing centres opening in Melbourne shopping centres.
The new testing centres are at Box Hill Central, Eastland, Greensborough Plaza, Stockland Point Cook, The Glen, Victoria Gardens, Westfield Southland and Westfield Knox.
Meanwhile, 30 fines were slapped on people flouting strict stay-home restrictions yesterday.
The law-breakers included seven people at a birthday party and multiple people committing a crime, including drug offending.
HEALTH BOSS TICKS OFF A RETURN TO THE CLASSROOM
One of Australia’s most senior health chiefs has reviewed all available global and Australian evidence and has declared there is no proof to support shutting down classes to control the coronavirus.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth says “it is clear this intervention (school closures) can cause harm” and “damage society”.
Dr Coatsworth has turned up the heat on states — including Victoria — that are enforcing remote learning, stressing it’s time to end the confusion frustrating parents, teachers and students.
“The national position remains that face-to-face teaching is safe, particularly given the current very low rates of community transmission,” Dr Coatsworth said.
“By contrast, there is plenty of public health evidence that stopping face-to-face teaching can damage society.”
“We need to trust the evidence that says it is safe for our children to be taught at school,” he said.
Writing in Saturday’s Herald Sun, Dr Coatsworth also warns school closures are having broader health impacts, particularly for vulnerable children, while increasing stress within families.
“As an infectious diseases specialist, I have examined all of the available evidence from within Australia and around the world and, as it stands, it does not support avoiding classroom learning as a means to control COVID-19,” he said.
Victoria is persisting with remote learning for term two as other states move to bring students back into classrooms.
Dr Coatsworth told the Herald Sun on Friday night while the Victorian government was worried about the movement of people required for schools to reopen, it was “a priority to find ways to make it work”.
“Every jurisdiction is going to have to work out their own way to do it, but in order for society to get back on track, we’re going to have to find a way,” he said, adding “every single school in the country” should consider the national medical expert panel’s advice on ways to make schools safer, including staggering pick-up and drop-off times.
International studies showed kids represented about 1 per cent of all coronavirus cases, Dr Coatsworth said, while a New South Wales study uncovered only two cases of transmission in schools from 18 cases with 863 close contacts.
The Federal Government is pushing the states to return to normal classes, offering to fast-track funding to independent and Catholic schools who agree to do so by June 1.
The deadline for that offer has been extended to noon today, and Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said more than 500 schools across the country had already signed up.
It comes as Trinity Grammar and Ruyton Girls’ School told parents they would hold double lessons in practical subjects — including studio arts, visual communications, hospitality, theatre studies and design and technology — on campus from May 5.
Other private schools are believed to be planning for a return to on-site teaching from May 18.
SPORT’S GRADUAL RETURN
The whistle will be blown to restart community sport in two stages, the first of which will limit training to groups of 10 people who keep their distance and minimise the use of change rooms.
The Australian Institute of Sport’s advice explains how dozens of different sports and recreational activities can start again, but decisions on when that happens are up to the State Government.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the initial phase should include children’s outdoor sport and outdoor recreational activities such as personal training, boot camps, golf, fishing, bushwalking and swimming, some of which are banned in Victoria but not other states.
The institute’s advice explains how individual training can safely happen now, and will be used to guide a second step towards limited sport and recreation before the third step of safely resuming full training and competition.
Gyms, dance classes and yoga and pilates studios would be free to reopen in the second phase, as long as they followed the 10-person limit and ensured there was only one person per 4sq m indoors.
When limited group activities are cleared, the institute said sharing some equipment — such as kicking a football or sharing weights — would be appropriate. Wrestling, holding, tackling and other contact would be banned.
The second phase would also include enhanced hygiene measures, such as using hand sanitiser before, during and after training and showering at home before and after training.
“The approach to training should focus on ‘get in, train, get out’, minimising unnecessary contact in change rooms, bathrooms and communal areas,” the institute said.
Once state governments approve moving to the second phase, runners and cyclists could carry on normally, although they would be advised to avoid following in the slipstream of others.
Footballers could practise kicking, marking and handball drills in small groups, while basketball and netball teams could practise non-contact play including shooting and defending.
Shadow sparring would be allowed but not full-contact boxing, and tennis players could play singles and doubles.
Cricketers would be cleared to practise in the nets and work on their fielding before full training and competition resumed. Even then, the institute said cricket balls should not be shined with sweat or saliva.
Mr Morrison said the National Cabinet agreed sport would “play a significant role as Australia emerges from the COVID-19 environment due to the associated health, economic, social and cultural benefits it brings”.
The head of a junior community swim club in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs said there was widespread frustration among swimmers wanting to get back in the pool.
Rodney Skudar is a coach of about 250 children at the Malvern Academy of Swimming Harold Holt Swim Centre in Glen Iris and the Glen Eira Academy of Swimming at Glen Eira Sports and Aquatic Centre in East Bentleigh.
He said a lot of juniors were keeping up with online classes for fitness but everyone was hopeful of pools reopening.
“Not knowing anything is probably the most frustrating thing from our end,” he said.
He said while in some states, the suggested alternative of open water swimming could be feasible, it was impossible in Melbourne weather.
But he said there could be scope for reopening outdoor pools earlier, even if indoor pools had to stay shut.
“That’s something they should look into,” he said.
“If people are allowed to swim in a river or at the beach you’d think they would be able to swim in an outdoor pool.”
Swimming Victoria emailed clubs on Friday night saying: “During these unprecedented times, Swimming Victoria is working hard behind the scenes to navigate the evolving COVID-19 situation and to plan ahead for our return to the pool.”
“To support this, we have established a COVID-19 Working Group, the ‘Plan Ahead Team’. The team will consider the factors involved in the COVID-19 regulations, their impact on the sport of swimming in Victoria and advise on how the sport can plan and prepare for the gradual relaxation of some or all of those regulations.”
Gymnastics Victoria said on Friday: “While we are disappointed that outdoor sport appears to be prioritised over indoor sports such as gymnastics, this is a positive sign that the restrictions relating to sport appear to start being lifted. We will of course be reviewing the detail of the principles and putting our views to the State Government about the suitability of gymnastics to commence earlier rather than later.
PM SAYS IT’S TIME TO RISE AND SHINE
Millions of Australians need to sign up to the coronavirus tracing app so restrictions on our everyday lives can be lifted from next Friday.
Australia has squashed the coronavirus curve so quickly that the National Cabinet has brought forward its plan to start relaxing social distancing rules.
“We can’t keep Australia under the doona,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday. “We need to restart our economy, we need to restart our society.”
But he warned how far the leaders could go in easing restrictions depended on how many people joined the 3.6 million who had downloaded the COVIDSafe app.
Mr Morrison refused to be drawn on which restrictions could be lifted first, but states other than Victoria are already allowing gatherings of up to 10 people — up from two — and giving residents more freedom to leave their homes.
While the National Cabinet plans to give Australians some relief next Friday, Victoria’s state of emergency rules are locked in until the Monday after, meaning families will likely still be prevented from celebrating Mother’s Day together next weekend.
“All jurisdictions will make their own decisions about settings for their specific circumstances,” a State Government spokeswoman confirmed on Friday night. “This does not change our plan to review restrictions on May 11.”
A key measure for relaxing the rules has been the effective reproduction rate of the virus, with the National Cabinet wanting it to remain below one so that every new infected patient was spreading it to less than one other person.
But Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said there were now so few cases in all states except New South Wales and Tasmania experts could not even come up with that number.
“Pretty convincingly we have flattened the curve,” he said.
Mr Morrison said that meant Australians had “earned an early mark through the work that they have done”.
“Success during the COVID-19 pandemic is not just about containing the virus and having low numbers of cases,” he said.
“That’s not the only curve we need to flatten — we need to reduce unemployment, we need to get businesses open, we need to enable Australians to go back to work.”
Prof Murphy said the app, which automated the process of finding who an infected person has been in contact with, was “the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle”.
Mr Morrison said “millions more” people needed to download it, and when asked how soon Australians could go back to the pub, he said signing up for the app was the first step.
“The degree to which we can consider easing the restrictions we have now, that depends on how many people have downloaded the app.”
He said even when restrictions were lifted, people would need to remain 1.5m apart, with social distancing and good hand hygiene expected to be needed until a vaccine was found.
Victoria recorded three new cases on Friday, taking the state’s total to 1364, and 16 patients remain in hospital including seven in intensive care.
Speaking ahead of the National Cabinet meeting, Premier Daniel Andrews said restrictions would not be eased before Victoria’s state of emergency rules expired on May 11.
“This is fragile. It might feel good to let all these rules off for a period of time, but that will evaporate very quickly if we end up with outbreak after outbreak,” he said.
MIGRATION FALL, TRAVEL BANS TO KEEP HURTING
Overseas migration is expected to crash by 85 per cent in the next financial year, endangering Victoria’s economic growth off the back of population growth concentrated in Melbourne.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed on Friday net overseas migration would be down 30 per cent this financial year, when compared to the population boost of 239,600 people last year.
He said it would then fall off by 85 per cent in 2020-21 — meaning Australia’s population would grow by only 36,000 people because of overseas migration next year.
Australia’s border is expected to remain closed at least until well into next year, with a possible exception being New Zealand.
This has devastated universities that rely heavily on international student fees.
Mr Morrison said the country would face “quite stiff headwinds” and again flagged pro-growth economic reforms.