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Race on to trace virus outbreaks and prevent harsher lockdowns – Herald Sun

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This coronavirus article is unlocked and free to read in the interest of community health and safety. Get full digital access to trusted news from the Herald Sun and Leader for just $1 for the first 28 days.
About 40 per cent of Victoria’s police stations have been closed to the public because of coronavirus.
The closures, aimed at stopping the virus spreading, come as about half a dozen police ­officers have tested positive to the illness so far.
Victoria Police moved to reassure the public there would be no effect on public safety and more officers would be deployed to the frontline.
As Victoria endured its third day of hard lockdown:
HIGH-level talks were last night being held to decide whether children would return to online learning;
GREAT-grandfather Alf Jordan, 90, became Victoria’s 23rd person to die of the virus as 216 new cases were confirmed;
AUTHORITIES were battling more than 100 outbreaks;
VICTORIA’S Chief Health Officer said the virus curve might begin to flatten in the next three to five days.
Premier Daniel Andrews warned there would be more tragedies if locked-down residents of metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire ignored orders to stay home.
“It’s very frustrating and it’s not the place we wanted to be,’’ he said. “You’ve got to be in your home.”
Victoria Police revealed it had closed about two-fifths of police stations to the public. The Frankston station was yesterday shut for cleaning after an officer tested positive.
A police spokeswoman said stations would continue to be operational.
The changes were aimed at getting more officers on the beat and protecting them from unnecessary face-to-face contact with the public.
Demand at the police counter had fallen.
Concerns are mounting for residents of an aged care home in Werribee after four staff at the facility were diagnosed with coronavirus this week. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Daniel Pockett
“These measures will apply to just over 40 per cent of our stations but will not impact on police response,’’ the spokeswoman said.
“We will continue to have people working from our police stations and resources will be deployed to incidents as needed.”
Government-level talks were last night deciding whether children would revert to online learning after all ­pupils except those in years 11 and 12 have an extra week of holiday this week.
The options are to have all younger children return to school a week on Monday, or to keep them at home until cases numbers fall.
Coronavirus cases July 11
An extra option understood to be on the table was to keep children in hot spot suburbs at home until outbreaks were brought under control.
School start times could also be staggered.
Of cases announced on Saturday, 30 were linked to the more than 100 known outbreaks and 186 were under ­investigation.
There are now 134 cases linked to Al-Taqwa College and 535 infections attributed to community transmission.
Commuters walk outside the usually bustling Flinders Street station.
Danielle Tatters with children Emily and Jack wear their masks while shopping.. Picture: Rob Leeson
Victoria now has more outbreaks at aged-care homes than any other jurisdiction but case numbers at each are low.
Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton said he hoped the second lockdown would lower case numbers.
Increased use of masks, which were selling out across Melbourne, was expected to yield benefits.
“We know that there were some changes in behaviour in advance of the lockdown and that should have an effect as well,’’ Prof Sutton said.
Nationwide, 11 new cases were confirmed outside Victoria. New South Wales will on Sunday announce it will start charging international arrivals for the cost of mandatory hotel isolation.
Swathes of Melbourne’s north and west are still driving surging coronavirus numbers, with Premier Daniel Andrews warning every suburb remains at risk of further outbreaks.
Serious concerns are now held for Roxburgh Park, Craigieburn and Truganina as health authorities race to contact trace high numbers of infections and prevent harsher lockdowns.
All three suburbs are within the municipalities of Hume and Wyndham, where the total number of COVID-19 infection has nearly doubled in the space of a week.
Since July 4, the number of active cases in these two regions has surged from 145 to 351.
The City of Melbourne also looms as an ongoing hotspot and on Saturday had 201 active cases, the most of any municipality.
Mr Andrews said while the virus loomed large in these areas, the risk of infection remained across the city.
“We’ve seeing significant numbers out of the northern and western suburbs, but it’s in other parts of Melbourne,” he said. “I wouldn’t want anyone in Melbourne to think this isn’t relevant to you.
“It is relevant to your family, your street, your community and all of us. We’ve all got a part to play.
People walk through a usually bustling shopping arcade in Melbourne.
“There is a big representation in that corridor (but) it is in every part of Melbourne. Some are at very low levels but it won’t be at low levels for long if people don’t follow the rules.”
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said residents should also consider wearing masks to protect against higher infection levels.
“Certainly we would make an emphasis in those hot spots areas for the most vulnerable individuals,” he said. “The very elderly, those with pre-existing chronic conditions … are the ones that we are very strongly recommending. But it’s a recommendation for everyone in Metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire at the moment.”
It came as last night reports emerged that the state’s contact tracing team will have to find up to 9000 extra people who have had contact with the latest confirmed cases.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said new testing sites will also be set up at Mernda, Greensborough, Tarneit and on the Mornington Peninsula.
“Ultimately our ambition here is to provide a testing site to everyone within 10 kilometres of their home,” she said.
More than 1 million Victorians have been tested for the virus, with a rate of 16,606 tests for every 100,000 people.
Shops across Melbourne last night began selling out of face masks as Victorians rushed to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
With Melbourne fast becoming a masked city, those in areas locked down by stage three COVID-19 restrictions raided shops and online sites so they could cover up.
It comes after a state government about-turn over wearing masks in public.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos revealed on Saturday that there were 32 million masks in government warehouses to protect frontline health workers.
“So our health resources are well supported and well prepared,’’ she said.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the sight of people in masks would be common for the foreseeable future.
“It is quite noticeable that many people are wearing masks now,” he said.
“It’s not compulsory but where you are out for a walk or purpose and you believe you may not be able to maintain that 1.5m distance — it’s low-cost, high-reward. This is going to be a feature of our response for a very long time.’’
Despite previously indicating there was no reason to wear masks, Mr Andrews yesterday said they could play a crucial role stopping the virus.
Forrister Jenot has started wearing a face mask in public, including when he’s shopping in the Bourke Street Mall. Picture: Andrew Henshaw
“It’s almost certain that the wearing of masks — again, where you can’t distance — could be a really important feature of the next part of that pandemic response,” he said.
New health advice, backed by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and the Australian Medical Association, urged Victorians to wear masks if they can’t physically distance.
Amcal Pharmacy Flemington managing pharmacist Janani Sarvananthar said since Friday masks had replaced hand sanitiser as the most in-demand item for lockdown.
“This weekend we’ve had people lining (up) outside the door waiting for face masks,” Ms Sarvananthar said.
The Cooper family wear their mask while at the beach in Portsea. Picture: Alex Coppel.
“We still have a few, but that’s only because we ordered a very large order after the first lockdown.”
She said demand for protective items was higher than during the last lockdown.
“I think people are definitely taking it far more seriously,’’ she said.
Sewing groups reported a surge in interest from people keen to make their own masks.
And one Melbourne manufacturer will recruit staff after Friday’s recommendation. FloatPac Group chief executive Gavin Hodgins said sales of reusable masks had surged 800 per cent and website traffic was up a staggering 3500 per cent.
– Peter Rolfe and Alexandra Gauci
A full house of poker players has shared in more than $21,000 of fines after being caught breaching stay-at-home orders.
The costly card game involved 13 people who had illegally gathered at a Southbank property on Friday, Victoria Police said.
Each of the 13 players copped a $1652 for breaching the Chief Health Officer’s directions.
They were among 83 people fined between Friday morning and Saturday morning for not following the stage three restrictions.
Twenty one fines were issued via road checkpoints where people did not have a permitted reason to travel.
Victoria Police said some of the reasons people gave for why they were travelling were that they were on their way to visit friends, to hang out with mates at shopping centres or attending birthday parties.
In a 24 hour period police checked 6967 vehicles and carried out 1347 spot checks at residential homes, business and public places.
It followed an expensive trip to KFC in the early hours of Friday morning that ended with police dishing out $26,000 in fines.
Paramedics had overheard someone ordering 20 KFC meals and contacted police to give them the car registration.
The car was traced and led officers to a nearby townhouse where they found a large group having a birthday party, Victoria Police Commissioner Shane Patton said.
“When we went in, there was two people asleep but there were 16 others hiding out the back and they (had) just got the KFC meals at a birthday (party),” he said.
“That is ridiculous, that type of behaviour. It is an expensive night when you think apart from the KFC, we have issued 16 infringements.
“At that amount, that is $26,000 that birthday party is costing them. That is a heck of a birthday party to recall. They will remember that one for a long time.”
Senior students at Lakeview Secondary College won’t return for VCE studies on Monday as contact tracing of a positive coronavirus test at the school hasn’t been completed.
The school shut on Monday for an initial three day period as the DHHS performed a deep clean and started contact tracing.
But a week later that tracing is yet to be completed, meaning students in their most important years of schooling will be forced into remote learning from Monday while their cohort returns to classrooms.
A letter sent to parents said on Monday year 12 classes will return in an online capacity, and on Tuesday year 11 classes will follow suit.
“I recognise that we are all anxious to return to normal school arrangements as soon as possible and I assure you we are trying to achieve this as soon as we possibly can,” the memo said.
There has been no announcement on when the contact tracing is expected to be completed.
A further 28 cases of coronavirus have been linked to Melbourne’s hotspot public housing towers making it the biggest single cluster across the state.
A total of 138 cases were linked to the North Melbourne and Flemington public housing towers as of Saturday, up from 111 on Friday.
The new figures take it above the Al Taqwa College cluster with 134 confirmed cases.
The Health Department was unable to breakdown how many of the fresh cases were residents from the 33 Alfred St tower which remains under strict quarantine.
Police are seen walking dogs outside the locked down public housing tower Picture: NCA NewsWire / Daniel Pockett
On Saturday, police went above and beyond the call of duty and braved Melbourne’s weather to walk the beloved pets of the residents, who are unable to leave their homes for another week.
It came as Premier Dan Andrews again defended the five-day hard lockdown of some 3000 residents in 10 public housing towers.
“As challenging as those steps were to take, they were the right steps to take,” Mr Andrews said.
“Everyone is doing their very, very best. No response like that is going to be perfect.
“I don’t want to have people locked in their homes for any longer than is necessary.”
Residents have complained of delays of getting food and supplies amid the lockdown.
Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton shares his recommendations for using cloth face masks.

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