Six deaths, 300 new cases as confusion surrounds rules
Victoria has recorded 300 new coronavirus cases and six deaths overnight.
It comes amid confusion over who should be forced to isolate after coronavirus tests, as Victoria battles surging infections.
Asked at his press conference on Thursday about what people with no symptoms should do after getting tests, Premier Daniel Andrews said: "People should isolate while they wait for a test result and that's the advice."
But official Department of Health and Human Services leaflets, handed to people at test centres who are asymptomatic - meaning they do not have any symptoms - say: "You do not need to self-isolate while you wait for your results if you are feeling well."
Asked to clarify the situation yesterday, the Premier's spokeswoman said: "If you are asymptomatic and you have a test you do not have to self-isolate - but if you are a close contact you must isolate."
Adding to the confusion, the national guidelines state: "If you get tested for the virus, you need to stay at home and avoid contact with other people. It may take a day or two for your test results to come back."
The guidelines also state people without symptoms who are tested as part of a widespread sweep of a sector in a "targeted program" can be told they do not need to isolate while awaiting results, but it is up to the state.
The measure was introduced in a bid to allow a state to conduct mass testing on a group such as abattoir workers to see if the virus was spreading unnoticed, while allowing them to continue working.
But someone without symptoms who is tested, but not as part of a targeted scheme, is required to self-isolate until their result comes back negative.
Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien said the Premier had blamed Victorians for the virus spread but "the government have let Victorians down".
"It's a bit rich for the Premier to lecture Victorians about doing the wrong thing when a lot of Victorians follow the instructions they are given by the government that turn out to be wrong," he said.
On Thursday, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said asymptomatic people tested for the virus should not leave isolation before they were cleared. He said official advice would be reissued to the AMA, the College of Rural and Remote Medicine and the College of GPs, to ensure everybody was on the same page.
Mr Hunt said: "To be very, very clear - and I'll just speak to the public for a second here - if you do have symptoms, you have been in contact, or you have been tested, you do need to isolate."
Victoria also failed to follow national guidelines that say close contacts of cases should be followed-up daily.
- Alex White
GOVERNMENT CLARIFIES ADVICE FOR PARTNERS DURING CHILDBIRTH
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has sparked confusion over whether partners of new mothers will be able to stay with them for longer than two hours after giving birth under new restrictions.
During Thursday's press conference, Ms Mikakos announced that the mothers' partner or support person could only visit for two hours in hospital after having the baby.
But just hours later, she tweeted that there were no restrictions on the length of time the partner could stay with the mother.
"From today, the rules that apply to maternity situations are that the woman is able to have her partner or support person with her as long as is required for the entire labour and birth of the newborn baby," Ms Mikakos said.
"Then, the partner or support person is able to be with them for a two hour visit after the baby is born."
On Thursday night, the Health Minister rolled back on her earlier comments, saying that there is no limit on the time that partners can stay after the birth.
"The only thing that's changed is a pregnant woman giving birth can now have one visitor when before it was 2," Ms Mikakos tweeted.
"Her partner/support person can stay for as long as they wish during labour & birth & after the baby is born. "
Despite Ms Mikakos' tweet, the official advice on the DHHS website states that after the birth "visits are limited to one per day for a maximum of two hours".
When contacted by the Herald Sun, a spokeswoman for DHHS clarified that the partner or support person of the new mum can stay as long as required after the birth, with subsequent visits restricted to once per day for a maximum of two hours.
"The Chief Health Officer in consultation with Safer Care Victoria and clinical experts recommended changes to hospital visitor policies to help prevent coronavirus transmission in hospitals and provide a safer environment for some of our most vulnerable Victorians, like new mums and bubs," a DHHS spokeswoman said.
"We know this will be challenging for patients including new parents but this is about balancing compassion and understanding, with making some tough choices to protect patients in hospital and the dedicated doctors, nurses and midwives who care for them."
- Sharon McGowan
BELOVED GRANDMOTHER AMONG AGED CARE DEATHS
A grandmother died of coronavirus less than a week after being diagnosed at one of Melbourne's most infected aged care homes.
Maria Vasilakis, 81, died in hospital on Thursday after contracting COVID-19 at St Basil's Homes for Aged in Fawkner.
Her devastated family criticised St Basil's staff for failing to protect vulnerable residents as the cluster at the facility grows to 73.
Footage taken by Ms Vasilakis' family shows a staff member without protective clothing handing flowers to the grandmother as she celebrated her birthday a week before she was diagnosed.
Her son Spiro Vasilakis said his mum "wasn't suffering" prior to contracting the virus and was only in aged care because she required help to move due to a bad hip.
"You hear all these conspiracy theorists out there who say the people who are dying are old and sick but my mum wasn't suffering from anything but a bad hip," he told the Herald Sun.
"There was a lack of care of St Basil's."
Mr Vasilakis said what happened to his mother was unacceptable and he is considering legal action.
"I'm not letting this go. I can't let her death go unquestioned," he said.
"We know no one lives forever but this wasn't her time."
Ms Vasilakis, who had two children and five grandchildren, was diagnosed with COVID-19 last Friday (July 17).
Her condition steadily deteriorate and she was admitted to the Northern Hospital on Wednesday where she died the next day.
Commonwealth medical experts have replaced staff at St Basil's as it grapples with the enormous outbreak of cases.
Mr Vasilakis said the measure were "too little, too late" and worried other residents would die.
"They should have been brought in from the onset," he said.
Mr Vasilakis said the aged care facility protected residents from visitors but not themselves.
"They took all the measures to protect residents from the outside world but nothing from the inside world," he said.
"Staff would go in and out and home every night and no PPE was worn inside even when after it they knew something was really wrong."
The Vasilakis family was informed that a relative of a St Basil's staff member had contracted the virus in the days before his mum tested positive.
- Aneeka Simonis
HIGH CASE NUMBERS MAY PROLONG LOCKDOWN
The high number of coronavirus cases in Victoria over the past two weeks mean it's unlikely the state will be able to end its lockdown within six weeks, experts believe.
Victorians in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire have already been in lockdown for two weeks, with another four to go, but the state is still recording more than 400 new coronavirus cases each day. Victoria recorded its worst day on Wednesday when 484 cases were identified.
Experts expected to see cases falling by now, although they say the figures are not as bad as they seem and the state did appear to be "flattening the curve".
However, the fact that cases aren't dropping yet could have ramifications for the state's lockdown.
Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely told news.com.au that it depended on what the government wanted to achieve.
So far the Andrews Government has said it is seeking only to suppress the coronavirus rather than eliminate it.
Read the full story here.
- Charis Chang
ANOTHER SCHOOL CLOSES AFTER POSITIVE TEST
MacKillop Catholic Regional College Werribee has joined Melbourne's growing
list of closed schools after a student returned a positive coronavirus test.
Parents were notified on Thursday night the school would be closed until July 28 with remote learning for VCE and VCAL students to begin on July 27.
All students have been advised to stay home and not visit public places as contact tracing gets underway.
"Affected students, their families and school staff will be notified by the Department of Health and Human Services in the coming days and supported to make sure they understand what to do next," Principal Rory Kennedy said.
"(The closure) will allow time for the college and the DHHS to work through a contact and containment strategy."
Read the full list of closed schools here.
- Brittany Goldsmith
VICTORIAN NURSING HOMES REMAIN UNDER SIEGE
Chief Nursing Officer Alison McMillan visited St Basil's Homes for the Aged in Fawkner - now the biggest outbreak with 73 cases - on Wednesday and said she was shocked staff had tested positive despite having reported no symptoms whatsoever.
"Staff members had been tested positive, but were telling their friends and their team that they were not having any symptoms whatsoever, even however mild, which is an unusual situation and very concerning for them all," she said.
"Many of them who had tested positive at that time yesterday (Wednesday) morning were saying that they had no symptoms whatsoever."
Following reports the staff did not have enough PPE, Ms McMillan said protocols were being observed.
Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck ordered all staff at the home be replaced but there was no plan to evacuate the site.
It comes as Estia Health in Ardeer has 67 positive cases and Estia Health in Heidelberg has 34. Menarock Life Aged care in Essendon has recorded 55 infections but residents have been evacuated from the facility after medical advisers feared the layout meant the sick could not be quarantined.
Aged care facilities in Craigieburn, Werribee and Avondale Heights have also been hit with dozens of cases.
Authorities have not ruled out transferring patients with COVID-19 to hospital but the decision is being made on a case-by-case basis.
The soaring case numbers in aged care as well as hospital settings have resulted in state Health Minister Jenny Mikakos announcing tighter visitation restrictions on Thursday.
Visits will now be limited to one person, for one hour per day. The new rule has been implemented in hospitals across Melbourne as a safety precaution.
Meanwhile, pregnant women would be able to bring one support person into their birthing suite, and a second parent is allowed a two-hour follow-up visit for bonding.
- Tamsin Rose, Alex White
MILLIONS OF MASKS COMING FOR VULNERABLE VICTORIANS
Millions of masks will be rolled out through hospitals, local councils, select pharmacies and GPs from next week.
Now mandatory while outside the home, more than two million masks will also be distributed through community health services and Aboriginal community groups.
About 1.7 million reusable masks will be made available to vulnerable Victorians, including 1.1 million for people living with chronic conditions.
Public housing residents, people in crisis accommodation, rough sleepers, people living with a disability, and people using family violence support services will also be targeted.
The state government expects to be able to provide two masks to those in need. Single-use masks will also be made available immediately.
Support workers in a range of fields, including public housing and crisis accommodation workers, child protection workers, and disability support officers, will also have access to 370,000 free masks.
"Masks will help slow the spread of this virus and we're supplying them to some of Victoria's most vulnerable residents, so everyone has the opportunity to protect themselves, their loved ones and the community," Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said.
From Thursday, anyone in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire has to wear a face covering - even a scarf or bandana - when outside their home, or face a $200 fine.
Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday called on Victorians to get behind the new rule, saying it was community "vigilance" and compliance that would drive down numbers and stop the spread.
"I think it's pretty simple frankly - (but) as challenging as some may find wearing masks, we'll see the benefits of that in the days and probably weeks to come," he said.
"The key point here is the vast majority of Victorians, if they're following the rules they'll be wearing masks and that will definitely contribute (to stopping the spread)."
Mr Andrews hit back at questions about joggers being exempt from the rule, stating: "It would be very challenging for people to run while they're wearing masks.
"There will be some settings where wearing a mask doesn't make a lot of sense. That might be one of them - while you're eating, drinking.
"If we want to have businesses reopen and return to a COVID-normal, then we can't continue to see stable numbers. We have to drive those numbers down."
He thanked the majority of Victorians who had already embraced the new rule.
"I personally - and not just as the leader of a government but as a father and husband - am deeply grateful to all of those Victorians who are wearing masks," he said.
Treasurer Tim Pallas appeared to be caught wearing a mask with a valve on Thursday, despite official warnings those can spread COVID-19.
Police and ADF members were at Melbourne's Botanical Gardens on Thursday morning, ensuring those out exercising were following the rules.
Victoria Police said they would "exercise discretion" for the first week as Victorians adjusted to wearing masks, but those blatantly flouting the law could expect the $200 fine.
In the CBD, workers and walkers masked up with floral prints, football colours, surgical masks and scarfs.
Charlotte Hinair, 24, said while wearing one was a bit uncomfortable, it was necessary. "It's not too bad."
But Brett Delamare had the words "Big Brother" printed on his mask, because, he said, "it's all about control at this point."
- Shannon Deery, Alannah Frost
DAN DENIES REJECTING OFFERS OF ASSISTANCE
Premier Daniel Andrews has denied rejecting a helping hand from other jurisdictions.
It comes as he met with navy chief Commodore Mark Hill, who was in Victoria at the request of Scott Morrison to advise on the state's problem-plagued virus response.
Mr Andrews said on Thursday the meeting was "very, very productive" but announced no changes.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told ABC Radio National it was a "no-brainer" Mr Andrews should take all the help he could get. "If you're in strife, then I think you'd swallow your pride, accept the offer of assistance," he said.
Mr Dutton also implied Victoria had rebuffed help from Queensland and NSW, which Mr Andrews said he knew nothing about. Hitting back, he said: "If I need something from the commonwealth, I won't hesitate to ask. And I'll tell you who I ask, I ask the Prime Minister, I don't waste my time asking the bloke he beat in a partyroom ballot."
The war of words came as more than 1000 extra Australian Defence Force personnel arrived in Victoria.
- Alex White, Tamsin Rose
Originally published as Six deaths, 300 new cases as confusion surrounds rules