Victorians told to stay home and get a virus test if they’ve been to Sydney’s Northern Beaches since December 11.

NSW’s Northern Beaches COVID cluster has tripled in size to 17 with 12 more cases identified.

The additional cases came after five cases were linked to a mystery source earlier on Thursday.

Victorian health authorities have urged anyone who has been in Sydney’s Northern Beaches since December 11 to stay at home and get a coronavirus test on Friday.

In a tweet on Thursday night, the Department of Health and Human Services said they should take particular care not to visit aged care facilities and hospitals.

“Further guidance will be issued as information becomes available,” the department said in a tweet.

University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said people from the Northern Beaches should be barred from travelling to Victoria because of the seriousness of the outbreak.

“I’d be surprised if we (Victoria) don’t ban arrivals of anyone from the Northern Beaches or anybody who has spent time there in the last 10 days or so. It’s just too risky,” he said on Thursday night.

Professor Blakely, who helped provide modelling for the state government’s road map, said there was no need to panic and slam shut the Victoria-NSW border completely.

But he said it would be appropriate to have a targeted response to stop people from affected areas travelling freely to Victoria.

“Let’s hope this is contained in the next 72 hours,” he said.

“If it’s not then boy is this the start of a superspreader Christmas event. Let’s not panic yet, the next 48 hours will be telling, but it would be astute of other states to protect themselves.”

But Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said on Thursday night it was too early for Victoria to impose any restrictions.

She said it was more likely NSW health authorities would advise people from affected areas not to travel.

“It’s really hard to actually manage from other states’ points of view to check where people are from and crosscheck certain postcodes,” she said.

“At this level it’s not necessary and it’s also hopefully enough for people in Sydney’s Northern Suburbs to think ‘if I was going to travel up to see grandma for Christmas maybe I won’t now’.”

HEALTH EXPERTS MEET AS NSW OUTBREAK GROWS

Top medical and health officers are set to meet tonight amid fears over rising COVID-19 outbreaks in NSW.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) will meet for two hours from 8pm to discuss the NSW situation.

The committee is the key decision making committee for health emergencies and could recommend the return of border closures.

There are fears Victoria could move to shut its border with NSW just one week out from Christmas.

Victoria closed the border with South Australia when 15 new cases emerged there based on public health advice.

“Our public health team is in regular contact with NSW Health and we continue to monitor the situation,” a government spokesman said.

AIRLINES MONITOR SITUATION

Airlines have advised passengers to check the latest advice from state governments prior to travel.

Virgin Australia said in a statement: “Any impacted customers will be provided with options to rebook on alternative services or be able to obtain a travel credit for use at a later stage.”

Jetstar and Qantas said they were monitoring the evolving situation.

TESTING BLITZ UNDERWAY IN NSW

An urgent testing blitz was launched in Avalon on Thursday as NSW Health worked to track down the source of the growing COVID cluster that could have started with a mystery case at the Avalon RSL.

NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said it was “critical” that anyone at the club on Friday December 11 come forward for testing, as authorities scrambled to identify the source of an emerging outbreak that has put the state on edge just before Christmas.

NSW Health was yesterday working under the theory that someone who attended the RSL club was the original source of up to five cases identified on Wednesday and Thursday.

The cases include two Avalon residents — a 65 year old woman and a man in his 70s — who both live together.

As well as venues on the northern beaches two new locations were added to coronavirus alerts this evening.

Anyone who attended Penrith RSL on December 13 between 1-6pm and the Kirribilli Club on December 14 between 12-3pm should get tested immediately and isolate until they get a negative result.

The partner of a woman who tested positive on Thursday morning has now also tested positive, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

Mr Hazzard confirmed a man in his 60s who tested positive for the virus this morning plays in a band – called “Nothing Too Serious” – and had travelled extensively.

The band’s guitarist said they are all really health conscious and do not think they have been the cause of the outbreak.

Nothing Too Serious was playing at Avalon RSL on Friday night in a gig that was attended by a local elderly couple who health authorities revealed had tested positive to the virus on Wednesday night.

Mr Le Bars said other band members were getting tested and self-isolating but none of them had symptoms.

Another one of Thursday’s new cases is understood to be a woman who works at the Pittwater Palms retirement home in Avalon.

Two other cases in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, from Avalon, were confirmed with the virus on Wednesday and a positive test for a southwest Sydney van driver who transported an airline crew to a quarantine hotel.

On Thursday, aged care homes in the Northern Beaches were told not to accept visitors until the source of new COVID cases is identified.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that NSW Health will issue a directive to certain aged care homes to stop outside visits until there’s more certainty around the emerging cluster.

“At certain aged care facilities in the Northern Beaches we’re recommending no visitors until we identify the source of infection and feel more confident that we have it under control,” she said.

It comes as colleagues of a bus driver who is believed to have contracted COVID-19 while transporting an international airline crew have tested negative to coronavirus.

NSW Health said all colleagues of the man tested so far have returned negative results.

Those contacts were household contacts and work colleagues.

NSW Health has issued stern warnings to residents and visitors to the northern beaches who may have been in certain places and should self-isolate.

There are seven venues where officials urge anyone who visited to get tested and then isolate for 14 days, even if they receive a negative result.

Those venues are:

Hungry Ghost Cafe, 20 Avalon Parade, Avalon – Sunday, December 13, 9.30am-11am and Tuesday, December 15, 9.30-11amSneaky Grind Cafe, 3/48 Old Barrenjoey Road, Avalon Beach – Monday, December 14, 9.30-11amBarramee Thai Massage and Spa, 4/42-44 Old Barrenjoey Road, Avalon Beach – Monday, December 14, 2-3.30pmBangkok Sidewalk Restaurant, 1/21-23 Old Barrenjoey Road, Avalon Beach – Monday, December 14, 7-8pmAvalon Bowlo (bowling club), 4 Bowling Green Lane Avalon Beach – Sunday, December 13, 5-7pm (not 3-5pm as previously reported) and Tuesday, December 15, 3-5pmPalm Beach female change rooms – Sunday, 13 December 9-9.15amCoast Palm Beach Cafe, Barren Joey Road, Palm Beach – Sunday, December 13, 10‑11am

There are also a number of spots where any visitors who were there at certain times should get tested and then self-isolate until a negative result is received. Those venues are:

Bing Lee, Gateway, 1 Mona Vale Road, Mona Vale – Monday, December 14, 4.30‑4.45pmWoolworths Avalon Beach, 74 Barrenjoey Road, Avalon Beach – Sunday, December 13, 12-5pm, and Tuesday, December 15, 12-12.30pmOliver’s Pie, Careel Shopping Village, 1 Careel Head Rd, Avalon Beach – Monday, December 14, 9-9.15am

It comes as Victoria recorded no new cases overnight. Nearly 9500 tests were received on Wednesday.

HOTEL QUARANTINE STAFF CASHED IN WITHOUT WORKING

Some hotel quarantine staff pocketed up to $40,000 pay during the pandemic, despite not working.

Many of the “standby” workforce — which peaked at 1500 people, including out-of-work airline crew — continued to be paid despite the hotel quarantine program having been suspended after outbreaks.

It comes as Victoria recorded no new cases overnight. Nearly 9500 tests were received on Wednesday.

The Herald Sun can now reveal that some full-time staff were paid annualised salaries that equated to between $28,000 and $40,000 over the five-month shutdown, with others on part-time contracts.

And the government issued a $750,000 contract in July to buy uniforms, including polo shirts and jackets for them to wear, when they finally returned to work.

Some of the staff were redeployed to the Hotels for Hero program to house health workers, as well as hotels for the homeless and domestic violence victims – but the majority did not carry out a shift in a hotel until the scheme restarted earlier this month.

Despite repeated requests the state government has refused to detail how much was paid for the “standby workforce” and instead maintain it was a necessary cost.

It comes as the state’s return traveller program kicked off again on December 7 with nine hotels in action, but the workforce of Resident Support Officers has now been reduced to 1022 workers.

A government spokesman said “there has been an ongoing recruitment and training campaign for Resident Support Officers (RSOs) since July, which has been critical to building a well-prepared workforce ready to welcome home returned travellers”.

“All RSOs have received extensive training and on-site induction, and have recently undergone a refresher training program before being deployed to hotels.”

Earlier this month, Treasurer Tim Pallas defended the move to pay people sitting at home saying “I believe this is an investment in the security of our domestic economy by making sure we have the most conservative quarantine system in the nation”.

When asked whether it was a good investment he responded “this has been a fast moving event and certainly at the time of retention of these people we didn’t have an immediate need or the capacity to deploy, but we also got a good level of skill and expertise in terms of people from the airline industry.”

To add insult to injury at the same time the government was paying RSOs thousands of dollars to not work, cleaners on low wage government contracts continued in their duties.

Mr Pallas denied the state had effectively created a two-class system, but said the pandemic had identified unfair employment issues.

The state’s new Hotel Quarantine Program kicked off on December 7 with return travellers now required to pay an estimated $3000 for their stay.

However, Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville revealed on Wednesday that the legislation meant payment could not yet be processed until next year.

Instead, people would be sent a bill.

The inquiry also heard the new quarantine program testing regime was up and running to identify any cases that escape the scheme early.

So far, staff within the hotels have had 5000 tests, and travellers took 900 tests.

There are 528 police officers and Protective Service Officers currently working in the program, which chief Commissioner said would add a “significant” cost in terms of overtime paid.

PUSH TO SCRAP FRINGE BENEFITS TAX FOR HOSPO

The hospitality industry is calling for the fringe benefits tax to be scrapped or suspended, in a move to bring back the long lunch and kickstart business.

Frank van Haandel, the owner of St Kilda’s Stokehouse, where thousands of deals have been sealed over steak and shiraz, said removing the fringe benefits tax on restaurant meals would be “a winner for everybody”.

“It’s not just the restaurant industry that would benefit from the FBT being dropped,” he said. “With China imposing trade sanctions, our fishing industry, our wine industry, our growers are hurting. If we drive more people through restaurants, the knock-on effect for those other industries would be fabulous.”

Industry bodies including the Restaurant and Catering Association have joined calls by Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell for the government to abolish or temporarily suspend FBT on food and accommodation to encourage corporate entertaining to return to struggling restaurants.

Industry doyen Jacques Reymond has seen the introduction of FBT cripple the restaurant industry twice — first while running a restaurant in France in the late 70s, then here in 1986 when it was brought in by the Hawke government.

“It’s not just the restaurant (it affected), it’s everything related to a restaurant — the flower supplier, the fisherman, everything. It’s a huge compound effect,” he said. “If you can get rid of that tax, I can assure you it will be fantastic for the whole hospitality industry. It will be a big boom, I’m absolutely convinced of that.”

COVID HEROES GET TO PUT THEIR FEET UP

After months of working on COVID-19 wards and even catching the disease herself, nurse Karlee Robson has finally got the getaway she deserves.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital worker is one of 250 nurses and hospital staff to win the Herald Sun and Crown Melbourne’s Healthcare Hero campaign, which celebrates the work of nurses across the state.

She said she felt “very spoiled and very lucky” to have won a weekend away at Crown to share with her partner Adrian.

It’s been a rough year for Ms Robson, who was nominated by her sister, a fellow COVID nurse.

The infectious disease ward nurse took on a second role in infection prevention just two weeks before the pandemic struck and found herself tracing patients’ contacts within the hospital.

“The cases just kept coming; it was really full on,” Ms Robson said.

She suspects it was working on those wards that led to her returning a positive a COVID-19 test and having to quarantine away from her family.

“It was very scary and emotional,” Ms Robson said.

“I spent so much time thinking and analysing: where did I get this, who have I spent time with, did I give it to my partner?”



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