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.
Victoria will remain in lockdown and in the dark as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews vows “the rules will stay in place”.
It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia was moving ahead with reopening the economy after weeks of fighting the virus
Following a National Cabinet meeting this morning, Mr Morrison said there was a three-step plan to achieve a coronavirus-safe economy and society.
“In this plan we walk before we run,” he said.
“There will be risks, there will be challenges, there will be outbreaks and not everything will go to plan.”
Speaking immediately after Mr Morrison, Mr Andrews said “nothing changes today, nothing changes tomorrow, nothing changes Sunday”.
However, he has flagged next week will likely bring further announcements.
Mr Andrews said he welcomed the overall national pathway, but he also welcomed the decision to leave the easing of restrictions to individual states and territories.
“The rules remain in place. And I just reiterate – these are the rules, and the strong compliance we’ve seen from Victorians, for which I’m very grateful, that’s what’s delivered these numbers,” Mr Andrews said.
“Let’s not give everything back, let’s not throw away all the progress we’ve made by letting our frustration get the better of us.
“On Monday, and indeed throughout next week, I will have a series of announcements to make about changes to the rules. Those rules – that will not be all the rules going, and it won’t necessarily be that the moment I announce something a change happens right then.
“The key point here is that, even at the end of next week, even at the end of May, there will still be rules in place. And they’re there for a good reason. They’re not there for me. They’re there for your safety.”
Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the government should not leave people in the dark or keep them at home unnecessarily.
“Victorians have been doing it tough,” he said.
“They deserve better than being kept in the dark by the Premier about how and when this lockdown will ease.
“It is time for Victoria to join the rest of the country by safely re-open our schools and letting people get back to work.
AUSSIES TO SEE THREE-STAGE PLAN TO REOPEN ECONOMY
WHAT VICTORIANS CAN DO WHEN RESTRICTIONS ARE EASED
COUNCIL STAFF ‘EXPECTED’ TO DOWNLOAD VIRUS APP
NATIONAL CABINET’S THREE-STEP PLAN
The National Cabinet has developed a three-step plan to move Australia out of coronavirus restrictions and get the economy going.
The Prime Minister said it was the responsibility of states and territories to implement the changes as they see fit.
The plan will be reviewed every three weeks.
Mr Morrison said virus outbreaks were expected after restrictions were eased but authorities were confident they have bolstered tracing, testing and containment capabilities, with more Australians urged to join the 5.2 million people who already downloaded the COVIDSafe tracing app.
In Victoria, Mr Andrews said 106,000 tests had been carried out in a two-week blitz, and while the government was waiting on results from about 30 per cent of those tests, it now had options for a “staged relaxation of some but not all of the restrictions we’ve put in place”.
The Federal Government is subsidising the wages of five million workers across 767,808 businesses, and while the JobKeeper scheme is in place for six months, Mr Morrison wants to reopen the economy and rebuild confidence.
media_cameraThe national pandemic intelligence plan suggests shops, cafes and indoor spaces could face ventilation and cleaning requirements.
Banks have deferred $160 billion worth of loans, including about 6 per cent of mortgages and 13 per cent of loans taken out by small and medium businesses.
But Mr Morrison has indicated that lifting restrictions could not be rushed, which Mr Andrews agreed with on Thursday, saying it would be “almost unbearable” if businesses burnt through their savings to reopen and were then forced to close again.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said staying 1.5m apart, washing hands and coughing carefully were “lifesaving, necessary measures” that were here to stay.
The National Cabinet would produce “a clear road map out with clear stages” that would enable the states to “make their judgments of their own circumstances”, he said.
“Australians will now be at the forefront of beginning to regain their lives as the world looks on, and that’s an extraordinary step,” Mr Hunt said.
ANOTHER SPIKE IN VICTORIAN CASES
Another 13 new coronavirus cases were recorded in Victoria overnight, with eight of those linked to the Cedar Meats outbreak.
The state’s total number of cases is now 1467 and the meat works outbreak has reached 71.
There are 117 active cases in Victoria.
The state government’s two-week testing blitz continues, with about 20,000 people being tested yesterday.
It comes as concerns have been raised about two protests planned in the City of Melbourne on Sunday.
Police Minister Lisa Neville called on organisers to cancel the protests.
“We have come so far and to blatantly breach these restrictions like that puts Victoria Police and our community in a difficult position and ties up police resources that don’t need tying up that way,” she said.
QUESTIONS RAISED ABOUT HANDLING OF CEDAR MEATS OUTBREAK
Rumours of coronavirus infections had been circulating for weeks at the meat works at the centre of Victoria’s biggest cluster, according to sources.
Multiple people have told the Herald Sun coronavirus cases had become common gossip among the 350 workers, prompting early warnings from non-official sources to be ignored.
Cedar Meats today confirmed they were alerted to a possible outbreak not by the Department of Health and Human Services but by Labour Solutions Australia on Friday April 24 when a manager called an employee of Cedar Meats.
However, the call “left the impression that there was a potential positive case, not a definite”, according to the company and with the factory closing for the weekend no major action was taken.
Two days later when a second man tested positive late on April 26 he identified Cedar Meats as his employer the company was informed directly by DHHS, prompting Cedar Meats to take immediate action and close the factory down for cleaning.
The Cedar Meats spokeswoman could not comment on rumours circulating at the factory but said the company had put safety measures in place where possible and acted accordingly as soon as they were notified.
“We were acutely aware of the risk factor and took any suggestion of COVID-19 was taken seriously,” she said.
The reports have raised further concerns that the cluster has not been handled “absolutely perfectly” as previously claimed by Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, with the worksite not contacted directly for days.
Labour Solutions Australia said the case confirmed on April 24 appeared to be a one-off as the person was away from work for a week.
“It was a single case of a person showing symptoms who had been away from the workforce for a week. You’d assume it was a one-off (as no one else had symptoms),” a company spokesman said.
But in hindsight, that wasn’t the case.
The spokesman added the company was positive no one in the cluster had been hopsitalised over the virus and hopes staff “can return to work healthy, as soon possible”.
media_cameraThere have been 71 coronavirus cases linked to Cedar Meats. Picture: Getty
The Cedar Meats cluster and the government’s handling of the outbreak has raised major questions over transparency, according to Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick, and will be a key line of questioning at a parliamentary inquiry next week.
The Upper House MP told the Herald Sun: “ I do have concerns about transparency” and flagged he will grill the ministers and department heads over what happened and what went wrong, in the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearings starting next Tuesday.
“We actually don’t know all the details and I would expect to hear those next week,’ Mr Limbrick said.
“I do have concerns about transparency.”
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised Premier Daniel Andrews for “the way he has sought to address these issues”.
He said outbreaks were difficult but could be managed, particularly with millions of people now using the COVIDSafe tracing app.
MORE PARTIES HELD DURING LOCKDOWN
Private parties were targeted by police overnight as part of the ongoing crackdown on Victorians disobeying social distancing restrictions.
Thirteen people were fined in the past 24 hours.
Victoria Police conducted 973 spot checks in that window.
media_cameraPolice conduct spot checks as part of Operation Sentinel.VULNERABLE VICTORIANS KEPT SAFE
Police Minister Lisa Neville said the operation to protect vulnerable Victorians from family violence during lockdown had saved lives.
More than 700 offences had been detected as police carried out checks throughout the state.
Operation Ribbon was set up to protect people during the lockdown who might have found themselves in isolation with someone who was violent.
“Unfortunately I’m here today to tell you [the operation] has been hugely successful.”
Since April 13 police had carried out 2431 checks and from that there had been 780 family violence offences committed.
“That is a significant number. It has shown the incredible value of being out there, reaching out…to victims of family violence and showing them we are there to support them. It has absolutely protected women and children and it has in my view, probably saved lives during this period.”
The Minister said the arrests reminded her family violence was one of the major law and order issues and there were “significant” numbers of vulnerable people who were “at risk of serious harm in their own homes”.
Police Commissioner Graham Ashton urged anyone who was unsafe at home to leave the home.
“You can go and seek the assistance of neighbours or friends as well.”
– With additional reporting by Tamsin Rose and Alex White
Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in VICSource: Vic DHSS