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Five coronavirus patients linked to aged care clusters died on Friday as commonwealth staff took charge of a Fawkner facility inundated by 73 cases.
The state is expected to record about 360 new cases on Saturday.
And Victoria’s aged care outbreak is continuing to grow, with another case confirmed in Box Hill.
Uniting AgeWell Box Hill is conducting a deep clean after a staff member tested positive.
They last worked on July 17 but were wearing a mask and were not in direct contact with residents.
In a letter to families, Uniting AgeWell chief executive officer Andrew Kinnersly said while it was believed the risk to residents was relatively low, the centre was deep cleaning two wings and staff areas.
All staff and residents were being tested with the facility closed to visitors pending the results.
“We know that you will be understandably concerned and anxious on hearing this news,’’ Mr Kinnersly wrote.
“Please be assured that all steps completed and underway are precautionary.
“We have been in contact with the Department of Health and the Public Health Unit and have
requested COVID-19 testing be undertaken for all residents and staff as a precautionary measure.
“All infection control measures will remain in place until test results are known.
“The Box Hill team is fully across what needs to be done.
“Additional support is also being provided by Uniting AgeWell’s senior response team.
“Our total focus is on keeping everyone safe and well.”
The affected worker was now at home in isolation.
It comes as doctors and aged care providers warned that staff shortages, a lack of protective equipment and tracing, and delays in testing have put the system on the brink of collapse.
The industry wants all diagnosed patients moved to hospitals and for interstate health personnel and even the Defence Force to be called in to tackle the crisis.
Residents began to be shifted on a case-by-case basis out of St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner on Friday.
There have also been 68 cases linked to Estia Health in Ardeer, 44 cases linked to Glendale Aged Care in Werribee and 37 cases connected to Arcare Aged Care in Craigieburn.
The family of Emma Kotsakis, a 93-year-old resident at Glendale, was on Friday desperately waiting for news of her health after COVID-19 was diagnosed on Wednesday.
Ms Kotsakis’s son George had not been able to speak to her since her birthday on Thursday.
“If her condition becomes any worse we might ask for her to be moved elsewhere,” he said. “I hope Glendale in their response keeps me updated.”
A task force, comprised of state and federal authorities, the ADF and industry leaders, is expected to be set up as cases were linked to another five aged care facilities on Friday.
Leading Age Services Australia acting chief advocate Tim Hicks said there was widespread frustration among providers, while diagnosed patients needed to be transferred to protect residents and workers.
“Aged care services have offered vacant sites to use as COVID-19 wards and have been turned down,” he said.
Moves to restrict casual staff working across multiple facilities sparked “immense confusion and distress”, Mr Hicks said, with providers fearful they would not have enough workers.
“I know of one provider who has 38 shifts over a fortnight to fill — where are these staff going to come from?”
Aged and Community Services Australia chief Patricia Sparrow said the military could give providers a “fighting chance to stop the spread”.
“We are on the brink in Victoria and we need more help,” she said.
“We need to do whatever it takes.”
Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said staffing was a “pressure point” but that the commonwealth had a “significant surge capacity” to use “as is required”.
“We know that transmission is harder to control in certain aged care facilities,” he said.
Mr Hicks also revealed aged care homes with confirmed cases were battling “unacceptable delays” with the delivery of personal protective equipment.
He said Victorian authorities were “taking days” to reach some facilities with positive cases, while test results were also taking days, and that healthcare workers were not being prioritised.
Acting federal chief medical officer Paul Kelly said: “We’re combining everyone who is involved in aged care in Victoria so that they’re in the same room and working through what else can be done to co-ordinate that action.”
— With Sharon McGowan
REGIONAL SCHOOL BORDERING HOT SPOTS CLOSES
A regional high school on the edge of Melbourne’s lockdown zone has become the latest to be struck with coronavirus.
Gisborne Secondary College, which urged staff and students to wear masks almost two weeks ago, has reported a COVID-19 case.
It will on Saturday close for 24 hours.
Principal Jonathan Morley, in a letter to parents on Friday night, said the Education Department and Department of Health and Human Services were undertaking further investigation.
The Sunday Herald Sun understands parents have not been told whether the reported case relates to a staff or student.
“Our school has been advised of a reported case of coronavirus (COVID-19),’’ Mr Morley wrote.
“All students and staff are asked to stay at home until further advice is provided.
“I am very aware that this is a time of heightened anxiety for us all.”
Gisborne Secondary College is within the Macedon Ranges municipality, which has six active coronavirus cases.
It borders virus hot spots Hume and Melton.
The Department of Health and Human Services has been contacted.
HOT SPOTS GETTING HOTTER
Areas in Melbourne’s northwest and southeast are still driving the state’s high infection numbers, with a spate of new cases linked to them.
Latest Department of Health and Human Services data shows municipalities such as Hume and Brimbank are still recording double-digit growth in COVID infections.
Brimbank had the highest figure of all, with 25 new cases linked to the region.
But worryingly, infections are also growing in the southeast. Casey and Dandenong are of particular concern after adding 14 and seven new cases respectively.
New infections at Australian Lamb Company in Colac were among those linked to current outbreaks, with this cluster now sitting at 47.
When asked if the state was likely to embrace harsher lockdowns, Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton warned that stage four restrictions may make little difference.
It comes after senior Australian Medical Association figures on Thursday urged the state to impose harsher lockdowns immediately.
Premier Daniel Andrews said there were no immediate plans for a tougher lockdown, as the wearing of masks, support for workers and other changes to public health efforts would help reduce cases.
— Kieran Rooney
DECADE BEFORE THINGS RECOVER
The economic recovery from the COVID-19 fallout could take up to a decade, and will be reliant on a vaccine being found, a leading economist has warned.
The forecast comes as Victoria’s peak commerce group has reported that business confidence and activity has taken a huge hit by the return of stage three restrictions.
University of Melbourne professor Roger Wilkins believes Victoria has fallen behind the rest of the country economically, and says a recovery will take years.
Professor Wilkins said fiscal stimulus to promote safe economic activity and industrial reforms could prove vital in Victoria’s recovery.
“I think we are still looking at many years before we get full recovery from this, even if we can get a vaccine fully deployed globally,” he said.
“We’re part of an integrated world economy. If the world economy is not picking up then we’re not going to fully recover until that happens.
“We’re looking at at least several years if not a decade before full recovery.”
Professor Wilkins, who described the current economic situation as “catastrophic”, said even once lockdown restrictions were lifted, economic recovery was not guaranteed.
“Everything is contingent on this virus,” he said. “If we don’t get it under control, you’re still going to see very subdued economic activity because of people being fearful.
– Shannon Deery