A major inspection and enforcement blitz of at-risk Victorian businesses will kick off across the state this week, with the spread within workplaces worrying authorities.
The state government announced the crackdown on Sunday to target at-risk workplaces including those with known COVID-19 cases, or where there is a high risk of the virus given precedent in the industry.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said more than 80 per cent of second wave cases could be linked to transmission within workplaces.
He also announced a scheme to ensure workers in aged care homes have access to sick leave to ensure they do not go to work if they are unwell.
’80 per cent of our new cases since mid-May are through workplace transmission,’ Mr Andrews said.
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A group of walkers at Fitzroy Gardens in East Melbourne on Saturday. Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a major inspection and enforcement blitz on Victorian workplaces to stem the spread of COVID-19 infection on site
Premier Andrews announced on Sunday the state had recorded another 363 cases and three more deaths from the infectious respiratory disease
He said the federal government would be funding the scheme – giving aged care workers forced to isolate the same amount per fortnight as the JobKeeper wage subsidy package.
‘If an aged care worker or, in fact, any worker does not have access to leave entitlements, they can access a $1,500 payment from the Victorian Government to ensure that they can be isolated for that 14-day period,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘This is a really important measure to ensure that people are not having to make a difficult choice between putting food on the table for their family or turning up for work when they are unwell.’
WorkSafe, Emergency Management Victoria and Victoria Police will coordinate the enforcement blitz in workplaces across the state.
Almost 8,000 site visits and 3,066 virtual inquiries have been made by WorkSafe between March 15 and July 15.
Of these, 3,460 visits and 1,700 virtual inquiries were directly related to or addressed COVID-19.
A man walks along Melbourne’s Princes Bridge on Friday. The state recorded 217 cases on Saturday – just over half the number of infections confirmed the day before
‘This inspection blitz will identify any workplaces who are not meeting the high standards necessary to keep their employees safe,’ Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy said in a statement.
‘There is no room to cut corners or be complacent. Workplaces need to take every step possible to maintain safe workplaces and prevent or limit the spread of coronavirus.’
Meanwhile, many public housing residents in North Melbourne are coming out of a two-week ‘hard’ lockdown after a coronavirus outbreak.
The state government-enforced shut-in of public housing residents at 33 Alfred Street ended late Saturday night.
They can now leave their homes for food, medicine, exercise, study and work – like the rest of Melbourne.
But up to a third of the tower’s residents, who either have the virus or are a close contact of someone who does, must remain in their units until they’re cleared.
AMSSA Youth Connect, a not-for-profit community organisation based in North Melbourne, said many of the Alfred Street residents will be in great need of allied health, psychological support and new employment.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews pictured at Friday’s press conference. WorkSafe, Emergency Management Victoria and Victoria Police will coordinate the enforcement blitz in workplaces across the state
A social worker for the organisation, Adna Abdikadir, said the two-week full lockdown was ‘really upsetting and really traumatising’ for many.
Victoria’s ombudsman is investigating the treatment of people across the Alfred Street tower and eight other towers shut down for five days in July.
Concerns have been raised about communication with the residents, their access to food, exercise, fresh air, medical supplies and care.
Face masks will become mandatory across Melbourne in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19 (pictured, masked police officers at locked-down North Melbourne tower block on Sunday)
Mr Andrews confirmed on Sunday the state had recorded another 363 cases and three more deaths from the infectious respiratory disease – while announcing mask wearing in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire would be compulsory from 11.59pm on Wednesday.
He said there would be exceptions to the order in cases where it’s not practical or masks cannot be worn for professional reasons.
‘Those who have a medical reason, kids under 12 years of age, those who have a professional reason or if it’s just not practical, like when running [will be given an exemption],’ he said.
DANIEL ANDREWS THREATENS EVEN STRICTER LOCKDOWN IF MASK RULE IS NOT FOLLOWED
Mr Andrews said tougher restrictions were his next port of call should Melburnians fail to wear masks in public.
‘If we can see high degrees of compliance, if we see people wearing masks then that will mean it is less likely we have to move to things like only doing daily exercise, for instance, in your own local postcode,’ he said.
‘Or things like you can only go shopping within a certain radius or certain distance from your home.
‘We don’t want to get to those steps – if we have to, we will.’
‘However you will still be expected to carry your face covering at all times to wear when you can.’
Teachers will not have to wear a mask while teaching, but students attending for VCE and VCAL secondary qualifications or for onsite supervision will not be exempted.
The Victorian premier also warned if the new rules on face masks were not adhered to Melburnians may face even more stringent restrictions on their daily lives.
Masked walkers are seen at Fitzroy Gardens in East Melbourne on Saturday. Premier Andrews warned if new rules on masks were not sufficiently followed, he may be forced to enforce even tougher measures
He said further social distancing measures could include forcing residents to shop and exercise solely within their own post code.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 11,784
New South Wales: 3,568
Western Australia: 651
South Australia: 444
Australian Capital Territory: 113
Northern Territory: 31
TOTAL CASES: 11,802
CURRENT ACTIVE CASES: 2,931
Face masks will also be mandatory from 11.59pm on Wednesday night.
An inquiry into Victoria’s bungled hotel quarantine scheme will start on Monday led by retired judge Jennifer Coate.
The inquiry was instigated by Premier Daniel Andrews after it was revealed protocol breaches by security guards at two Melbourne hotels led to outbreaks.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has also said he is increasing the number of Australian Defence Force personnel in Victoria – not only to help with preventing illegal interstate travel but also in helping to stamp out the spread of COVID-19 inside the state itself.
‘In particular, they have helped with border control, with isolation, with checkpoint work,’ he said.
‘But perhaps most importantly, in providing support, assistance and rigour in the contact tracing program.’
New South Wales on Sunday confirmed 18 more cases, as residents in the state were urged to avoid non-essential travel and visits to high-risk venues like restaurants and pubs.
Officials have said three people, two in Sydney’s south and one the south-west, have not been linked to any known clusters.
One of the cases is still being investigated by contact tracers.
Another locally acquired case attended Holy Duck! restaurant in Chippendale on the evening of July 10.
Health authorities also said an infected person visited the Anytime Fitness Gym in Merrylands on 14 July from 9pm to 10.30pm.
New South Wales on Sunday confirmed 18 more cases – including one person who visited the Anytime Fitness Gym in Merrylands on 14 July from 9pm to 10.30pm
Anyone who visited the gym during that time has been told to self-isolate and get tested if they experience symptoms of the virus.
Another case from the Crossroads Hotel cluster was confirmed – taking the total for that outbreak to 46 people.
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said authorities were ‘nervous’ about the potential for virus spread once schoolchildren go back to school next week and start using public transport.
‘The state is in a critical juncture and there is no place for complacency,’ he said. ‘In fact in the middle of a pandemic, complacency can kill.