Victoria’s COVID-19 outbreak spread to Sydney and Darwin on Thursday after new cases were confirmed in both cities from travellers returning from hotel quarantine in Melbourne.
As pressure grew on the Andrews government over its bungled handling of overseas travellers, Victoria recorded 77 new cases, the highest case growth since the virus peaked in Australia in late March.
The new cases included 31 of community transmission and authorities warned that the pandemic was spreading in Melbourne schools through student-to-student and student-to-teacher contamination.
Officials expressed alarm at the continuing spread, but noted this was the fourth day the infection growth rate has remained relatively stable.
The new Darwin case breaks the Northern Territory’s four week streak since a COVID-19 infection was last identified, after it effectively eradicated the virus last month.
The man tested negative to COVID-19 while in quarantine in Melbourne, but then spent two days with family in a hotspot suburb before flying to Darwin via Brisbane on Monday.
The new NSW case, a worker at Balmain Woolworths, originally tested positive to the virus while in quarantine but was then cleared of the virus and allowed to leave the hotel after 14 days.
Upon his return to Sydney, however, he again tested positive for COVID-19 after his store manager asked him to take a precautionary second test.
Fifty Woolworths staff are now in isolation and the government has urged all people who had shopped at the supermarket to be on alert.
A security blitz at Sydney Airport on Thursday caught five Melburnians attempting to enter NSW despite being banned from doing so as they were from hotspot suburbs.
A woman from Melbourne who was awaiting COVID-19 test results also tried to enter the state by train.
There were eight new cases, including the Woolworths worker, identified in NSW on Thursday to bring the total number of active cases in the state to 375 and in Australia to 805.
As legal lockdowns came into force, Victoria Police set up high visibility booze buses to enforce new restrictions across 36 Melbourne suburbs, and police said they would be issuing on-the-spot fines of $1,652.
“We will be fining people, there is no doubt about that. i want to be crystal clear … for those who are selfish enough to breach the Chief Health Officer’s orders, we will be penalising them,” Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patten warned.
Mr Patten said ignorance would not be an excuse: “You would have to have been on Mars not to understand that the CHO’s restrictions apply in these 36 suburbs and you are expected to abide by them”.
Hotel breaches inquiry launched
The legal lockdowns across 10 northern Melbourne postcodes began as the Government announced the terms of reference for a judicial inquiry into the operations of hotel quarantine, which the Premier, Daniel Andrews, has admitted was flawed.
Genomic fingerprinting has confirmed that at least 48 cases have come from the hotels from returning travellers. The $3 million inquiry into the security breaches has been given a wide mandate. It will be undertaken by former Federal Court Justice Jennifer Coate and will report late September.
The Shadow Minister for Health, Georgie Crozier said the Premier can’t wash his hands of this hotel quarantine disaster.
“Victorians should not have to wait months for answers about how Daniel Andrews has made such a mess of Victoria’s hotel quarantine.
As with the Ruby Princess bungle the Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought to characterise the hotel breaches as a lesson for all leaders.
“I think the Premier’s been pretty upfront about that, and pretty honest about where the weaknesses have been and he shared those weaknesses with his colleagues, so similar things don’t occur in other jurisdictions.
“So I think it’s important to learn the lessons and I think premier Andrews has been, I think, quite upfront about that so he has my support to continue to put these measures in place and get on top of this outbreak.”
As local political pressure from the hotel bungle rose, New Zealand’s Health Minister, David Clark was forced to step down after criticism of the government’s response to a new coronavirus breakout and his own breaches of lockdown rules.
Victoria aims to again crush the curve
Outlining the local lockdown strategy, Professor Sutton declared the aim was to again crush the curve.
“We showed that we could crush the curve, that’s what we did in the first wave of this pandemic in Australia across the country,” Professor Sutton said.
“My intention is to do exactly the same with this wave, and to be in a position where a month from now, where we’re talking about single digit, if not zero cases again.’
Professor Sutton raised alarm among parents after admitting there was transmission within schools: “There has been some student student transmission and also teacher to teacher transmission at some schools. When there’s a heavy load of community transmission, more students getting infected.”
He said these schools are closed the conduct tracing that’s being done and the students and teachers are now home.
Professor Sutton admitted the high level of transmission meant “there is absolutely an expectation that some of those people will die”.
His comments came as hospitalisations have risen to 20 – double the rate of a few weeks ago –including four in intensive care. Deaths tend to lag infection reports by around three weeks.
“This entire pandemic that’s now, affecting 200,000 people a day globally started with one person, and has killed more than half a million people having gone through maybe a quarter of the pandemic globally,” Professor Sutton said.
“This will be a pandemic that has the potential to kill five or 10 or more million people worldwide.”
This story originally appeared in the Australian Financial Review. Read the original story here.
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