The number of coronavirus cases in Victoria continues to inch up as a paramedic tests positive to the virus and health authorities investigate a cluster at a meat processing plant.
- Seven new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed across the state since Friday, bringing the total to 1,371
- Eight more testing locations at shopping centres and retail sites have opened around Melbourne
- The State Government still plans to wait until May 11 before reviewing physical-distancing restrictions
The unnamed Melbourne meat processing plant has been temporarily closed after eight employees tested positive to coronavirus, including three in the past 24 hours.
The ABC understands the facility is an abattoir for the export market in Melbourne’s outer suburbs.
At a press conference on Saturday morning, Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the facility was being thoroughly cleaned and all contacts of the coronavirus cases were being traced.
“I’m also advised that there are no current concerns about food safety,” Ms Mikakos said.
Ms Mikakos did not provide the name of the meat processing facility.
“The advice that I’ve received is that a facility will be named if there is a risk of community transmission occurring,” she said.
Ms Mikakos said seven new cases had been confirmed across the state since Friday, bringing the total to date to 1,371.
One of the new cases was thought to be due to community transmission.
“The fact that we’ve had seven new cases overnight does demonstrate that the situation is still incredibly fragile and that it is important for everyone to still continue to follow the restrictions around staying at home as much as is possible [and] to only leave your home [in the] very limited circumstances that are permitted,” she said.
Paramedic tests positive to coronavirus
Following Ms Mikakos’s press conference, Ambulance Victoria confirmed that a paramedic had returned a positive test for coronavirus.
A spokesperson said there was nothing to indicate that the paramedic had acquired the virus from patient contact.
“The paramedic concerned is recovering in isolation and is doing well,” the spokesperson said.
“As a precaution, five paramedics who came into contact [with them] are also in isolation.
“This does not mean they have COVID-19; rather, it reflects our conservative approach to the safety and wellbeing of our staff and patients.
“Our strict infection control measures mean paramedics wear Personal Protective Equipment (masks, gloves and protective eyewear) to every case to protect themselves and the community they care for.”
New testing sites opened
Ms Mikakos said eight new testing locations opened on Saturday around Melbourne.
“We now have 22 shopping centre or retail sites open across Victoria, and eight new ones have opened today at Box Hill Central, Eastland, Greensborough Plaza, Stockland Point Cook, The Glen, Victoria Gardens Shopping Centre, Westfield Southland and Westfield Knox,” she said.
Ms Mikakos said the majority of test results were available after 24 hours. She added that 129,000 tests had been conducted in total.
“I’m very heartened by the uptake in the numbers that we’ve seen in recent days as we have opened more locations and we are making it much easier for people to go and get tested,” she said.
The tests are free and people just need to bring along their Medicare card or identification if they do not have one.
The Minister said she was tested earlier in the week after feeling unwell and worked from home. The test was negative.
About 6,000 swabs were collected from people across Victoria on Friday and more than 30,000 people have been tested since a “testing blitz” began on Monday.
“I do want to encourage Victorians to go and get tested if they have mild symptoms, that is cold or flu-like symptoms,” she said. “No matter how mild your symptoms, they may indicate you do have COVID-19.”
Victoria Police issued 30 fines over Friday for alleged breaches of the coronavirus restriction orders.
Police said seven people gathering for a birthday party were among the recipients.
Restrictions to continue until at least May 11
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that Australians deserved an “early mark” on coronavirus restrictions and National Cabinet would bring forward a key meeting on relaxing the restrictions to May 9, a week earlier than scheduled.
Despite this, Ms Mikakos said the State Government still intended to review Victoria’s restrictions on May 11.
“We’ve made it clear that that is the point in time, when the current state of emergency expires on the 11th of May, to make a reassessment,” she said.
She also defended her Government’s stricter restrictions in comparison to other states such as Queensland.
“There has been some variations in approach, but Queensland has had I think 4 per cent community transmission, compared to Victoria’s 10 per cent,” she said. “Every state’s circumstances will vary.”
Meat processing industry faring ‘extremely well’
Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said the coronavirus cluster in the Melbourne abattoir was regrettable but “not entirely unexpected” given the industry employs more than 100,000 people.
“AMIC has provided our members with detailed guidelines on preventative and preparedness measures against COVID in our workplace,” Mr Hutchinson said.
“Our processing industry has fared extremely well in comparison to our international counterparts, which is a reflection of the lengths our industry has gone to protect our workforce and community, as well as the strong response in Australia to effectively flatten the curve.
“We do not anticipate that we will see in the Australian industry the same unfortunate situation in the US, Brazil, and other countries, and do not expect there to be any food shortage concerns or livestock supply issues.”