Daniel Andrews was urged last week by Australia’s top health official to suspend elective surgeries so hospital beds could be freed up for elderly residents amid the COVID-19 second wave ravaging nursing homes – but waited for days to act.
The Victorian premier announced on Tuesday the majority of elective surgeries would be cancelled so more resources could be re-allocated to the state’s aged care sector responsible for 769 of Victoria’s active coronavirus cases.
But Mr Andrews was reportedly told in private by the country’s chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy to stop the surgeries before last Friday’s meeting of the national cabinet.
An aged care resident at the Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility is moved into an ambulance on Tuesday. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Tuesday the majority of elective surgeries would be cancelled so medical resources could be re-distributed to the aged care sector
Mr Andrews pictured during a press conference on Monday. He was reportedly told by both Australia’s chief medical officer last week and Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday and Tuesday to cancel all elective surgeries to free up resources for aged care
Professor Murphy’s advice had been given with the expectation elective surgeries would be cancelled over the weekend, government sources told news.com.au.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison then told Mr Andrews to make the same call on both Monday and Tuesday before he finally made the announcement later that day.
Mr Andrews confirmed his conversation with Mr Morrison, while noting aged care was managed by the Federal Government.
‘I’ve spoken with the Prime Minister. Ministers have been speaking. Officials have been speaking. It was a very long night, but this is a critical challenge,’ he said.
‘I won’t stand here also and say, ‘”oh, well, this is just a Commonwealth Government matter”.
‘We don’t run this sector but the residents in these homes are all Victorians. The Commonwealth Government has asked for help and that is exactly what my Government and our agencies will provide to them.’
Mr Morrison said earlier on Tuesday the aged care outbreak in Melbourne was ‘very complex’ and the Federal Government was working to plug the gap left behind by the widespread standing-down of the sector’s workforce.
‘It’s very difficult and it’s very hard to get people into those positions, particularly given the complexity and difficulty of the situations they’re facing,’ he said.
Mr Morrison said a fifth of Victoria’s 430 aged care homes had been affected by the virus.
Announcing the cancellations, the Victorian premier said aged care home residents would not be moved en masse and transfers would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Nurses from hospitals will also be redeployed to nursing homes to assist with care, as some face staff shortages.
The state’s aged care sector alone is responsible for 769 of Victoria’s active coronavirus cases during its horror second wave. Pictured is another Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility resident being taken away in a ambulance on Tuesday
Mr Andrews was also on Tuesday criticised by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt after the premier said he would not want his own mother to be in some of Victoria’s coronavirus-ridden private aged care homes.
The Victoria Premier was asked during his daily press conference if he would be happy for his 75-year-old mother Jan to be a resident in one of the 61 care homes that have suffered COVID-19 outbreaks in Victoria.
Mr Andrews replied: ‘Well my mother is in her mid 70s, she has some underlying health conditions but she lives at home.
‘Some of the stories we have seen are unacceptable and I wouldn’t want my mum in some of those places,’ he said, referring to reports that some residents have been left lying in soiled sheets and without enough food.
Mr Andrews earlier said he would not want his mother (pictured together after election victory in 2018) to be in some of Victoria’s crisis-hit care homes
‘I would not let my mum be in some of these places, I wouldn’t.
‘But that’s not a decision I have to make at the moment because she’s very happy to be at home and if she’s watching this she’ll be very angry that I’m even contemplating the notion of going into residential aged care,’ he joked.
An emotional Mr Hunt told reporters his father lived in a nursing home and said he could not imagine his family and father receiving better care.
‘My father lived in one, and we knew that that meant he was in the latest stages of his life,’ he said.
The Victoria Premier was asked by a journalist if he would be happy for his 75-year-old mother Jan (pictured together) to be a resident in one of the 61 care homes that have suffered outbreaks in Victoria
‘The idea that our carers, that our nurses, are not providing that care, I think, is a dangerous statement to make. They are wonderful human beings and I won’t hear a word against them.’
Victoria recorded 384 new coronavirus cases and six more deaths between Tuesday and Wednesday’s daily updates.
There are 4,774 active cases, including 414 health workers. The state has suffered 83 deaths in total, only one less than the rest of country combined.
A total of 206 people are in hospital, with 45 in intensive care.
This graph shows how Victoria’s second wave sprung up in late June. The state recorded zero new cases on June 5
There are 769 active cases of coronavirus in care homes, including hundreds of staff who must isolate for two weeks, causing chronic shortages.
Premier Andrews said he had ‘no confidence’ that private care homes can look after residents and has cancelled non-urgent elective surgery to free up public health staff and draft them into homes to take care of the sick.
Two people in their 90s, three people in their 80s and one person in their 60s died in the 24 hours to Wednesday’s update, taking the state’s death toll to 83, with 22 deaths in the past three days.
Ambulance officers remove a resident from the St Basil’s Home for the Aged in the Melbourne suburb of Fawkner on Monday
A resident is taken away in an ambulance from Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility
The carehome with the most cases is St Basil’s in Epping, which has suffered more than 80 cases.
‘We have sent registered nurses in there to support the care and the wellbeing of those residents,’ Premier Andrews said.
Nurses given paid pandemic leave
Casual aged care workers will be eligible for paid pandemic leave after a Fair Work Commission decision to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The new rule will take effect from Wednesday for three months, allowing aged care staff to stay home without losing income, the commission said on Monday.
The Fair Work Commission says the pandemic leave will:
* apply to workers who are required by their employer or a government medical authority or on the advice of a medical practitioner to self-isolate because they display COVID-19 symptoms or have come into contact with a suspected case;
* is limited to up to two weeks’ paid leave on each occasion of self-isolation;
* not be paid to workers who are able to work at home or remotely during self-isolation.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is visiting businesses on the Sunshine Coast, will return to Canberra to help deal with chronic staff shortages.
At 11pm on Monday one home in Melbourne had to call in Australian Defence Force troops to work through the night after nurses were sent home because they were ill.
‘The standing-down, necessarily, of many in that workforce has had a very significant disruption to the provision of care in those facilities,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘Commonwealth has been working, including with other states, to ensure that we can plug those gaps wherever we possibly can.
‘But I want to be up-front with you – it’s very difficult and it’s very hard to get people into those positions, particularly given the complexity and difficulty of the situations they’re facing.’
‘There is no effort being spared to ensure that we can get the people to the places they need to be.’
Meanwhile, federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck has been tasked with improving communication between age care homes and the families of patients.
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said for families with loved ones in aged care, the situation was the most terrifying moment of the pandemic.
‘This is a catastrophe. This is a system which is in crisis,’ he told reporters in Melbourne.
‘This is a matter of heartbreak for families who are having to farewell loved ones – but not in person, in ICUs across the state.’
New South Wales on Tuesday recorded 14 new cases of the virus.
Six of the new cases were linked to the funeral gatherings cluster, four cases were associated with Thai Rock restaurant at Wetherill Park, and one case is associated with the Thai Rock restaurant at Potts Point. One case is a staff member at the Apollo restaurant in Potts Point.
On Monday Victoria suffered six deaths and a record 532 new cases.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said that figure could mark the peak of the crisis but The Australian Medical Association Victoria warned that if numbers do not come down then a Stage Four ‘New Zealand-style lockdown’ would soon be needed.
ADF staff are seen at Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility in Epping as six more deaths are recorded across Melborne
Masks are now compulsory in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire. Pictured: a man walks through the Melbourne CBD on Monday in front of Australian Defence Force personnel on duty to help with the coronavirus response
Casual aged care workers will be eligible for paid pandemic leave (pictured, Estia Health in Ardeer, where there are 82 cases of coronavirus)
‘What New Zealand did for a month is that they closed pretty much all businesses other than pharmacies, medical clinics, grocery stores, petrol stations and really curtailed a lot of retail shopping and a lot of businesses,’ President Julian Rait told 3AW on Monday.
‘That’s the model that I would look to and clearly they were able to achieve elimination through that with a month of such measures.
‘I am not suggesting that is necessarily possible now in Victoria with the number of cases but I would suggest that stronger measures for a shorter period might be a preferable strategy to months and months of what we have got at the moment.’
Professor Sutton said he hoped the numbers would continue to decrease.
‘Modelling, with our effective reproduction number that I have seen most recently, suggests that today should be the peak,’ he told reporters on Monday.
‘I’m not going to sit back and say today is the peak. We have to see what happens in coming days.’
Premier Andrews said people who are going to work sick – including those who work at aged care facilities – are the ‘biggest driver’ of the state’s second wave.
He warned the state’s six-week lockdown, which started on July 8, would not end until people stop going to work with symptoms.
Mr Andrews even flagged the possibility some industries could be shut down.
‘If we were to continue to see outbreaks, if we were to continue to see people quite obviously attending work when they shouldn’t be, then every option becomes on the table,’ he said.
Victoria is set to record fewer than 400 new coronavirus cases today. Pictured: the normally bustling DeGraves Street cafe district in Melbourne
Australian Defence Force personnel and Victoria police officers patrol the Royal Botanic Gardens on Sunday, ensuring everyone wears face masks
Monday’s deaths included a woman in her 90s, a man and a woman in their 80s, a man and a woman in their 70s and a man in his 50s.
Five of the deaths linked to aged care outbreaks.
Victoria has reported 58 deaths in the past six weeks, taking the state’s toll to 77 and the national figure to 161.
Mr Andrews on Monday night pleaded with young people to stay at home.
Many of the recent deaths in Victoria’s second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have been linked to outbreaks at aged care facilities (pictured, Epping Gardens Aged Care, where there have been 77 cases of COVID-19)
‘This virus doesn’t just affect older people,’ he wrote on Facebook.
‘Young, fit and otherwise healthy people are struggling to breathe.’
Victoria’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos echoed the premier’s sentiments.
A For Lease sign is seen on Smith Street, Brunswick, as a record number of shops go out of business in Melbourne
‘This is not an older person’s disease. A quarter of infections we are seeing are young people in their 20s,’ she said.
‘People in their 60s only represent six per cent.
‘This is a highly contagious virus that can strike anyone in our community regardless of their age, regardless of their circumstances.’