Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has been slammed for mistakes made handling the coronavirus crisis after cases in Victoria started to soar.
The state recorded its biggest single-day spike in COVID-19 cases in almost three months on Sunday as 49 new cases were identified overnight.
Mr Andrews did not enforce mandatory testing for returned travellers, and as many as 5,000 people were allowed home after refusing a coronavirus test.
He also allowed untrained security guards to police quarantine hotels and allowed travellers to return home to suburbs which are now at the centre of the new outbreaks.
Mr Andrews, who was previously dubbed ‘Chairman Dan’ for his strict lockdown measures, was also criticised for failing to make sure people were self-isolating after 13 people who were supposed to be at home were caught flouting the rules in a single day.
This graphic shows the spike in cases within known coronavirus hot spots in and around Melbourne
Lieutenant Commander Thomas Miller of the Royal Australian Navy (R) watches as members of the Australian Defence Force perform COVID-19 coronavirus tests on members of the public
Writing in the Herald Sun, controversial commentator Andrew Bolt said that the Victorian government failed to get tough on the one thing that mattered most.
‘It didn’t make sure that sick people were put in tight quarantine – and stayed there,’ he wrote.
Mr Bolt’s comments came as Mr Andrews said a cigarette lighter may have contributed to an uptick in cases.
Mr Andrews on Sunday said staff at the hotel had followed correct protocols relating to social distancing, but had unwittingly spread the virus after sharing a lighter.
‘[They were] keeping their distance but sharing a lighter between each other,’ he said. ‘An innocent thing that can lead to transmitting the virus.’
The Premier also said he was aware some staff had been carpooling to work.
After Mr Andrews spoke on Sunday, Bolt issued a scathing assessment of Mr Andrews’ leadership throughout the crisis.
‘So this government is not just incompetent but hysterical, and the whole country is paying for it,’ he said.
Bolt cited the government’s decision to hire security guards to man the doors at quarantine hotels without offering them appropriate training.
Some of these security guards were later diagnosed with the virus and contributed to clusters within their family and friendship networks.
The second strike for the government, according to Bolt, was operating at-home quarantine on an ‘honour system’.
Sick people were told to quarantine at home for at least 14 days after symptoms appeared, though evidence suggests plenty were actually ignoring these protocols.
Medical staff are seen conducting coronavirus testing at the new Mobile Testing Site at CB Smith Reserve Fawkner in Moreland, Victoria (pictured on Saturday)
Victoria has been carrying out a testing blitz in ten suburbs across Melbourne – and warned they could lock neighbourhoods down if COVID-19 infection rates keep rising
Last Monday, police had a blitz where they checked on people supposedly quarantining at home. They found 13 people were breaking the orders.
The third and final point which indicated the Victorian government had ‘failed’ in its fight against coronavirus was addressed – and fixed – on Sunday during a press conference.
The Victorian government allowed people to leave their hotel quarantine arrangements even if they refused to be tested for the virus.
On Sunday, Mr Andrews said they had changed the policy to limit the room for error.
Under the new rules, any returning traveller who does not consent to a test will be forced to stay in hotel quarantine for a further ten days.
The government said those in quarantine would be tested twice – first on day three and then again on day 11 of the 14-day quarantine period.
Workers are seen carrying out the huge testing blitz in Melbourne on Saturday (pictured) amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections
Department of Health and Human Services’ community engagement team members are seen door-knocking residents in coronavirus hotspots (pictured in Melbourne on Wednesday)
Mr Andrews revealed health officials had carried out 40,000 tests over the past three days as part of a testing blitz in ten hotspot suburbs across Melbourne.
Of the 49 new cases reported on Sunday, four are from known outbreaks, 26 were detected through routine testing and the other 19 are under investigation.
One of the four cases from known outbreaks has been traced to Melbourne’s Stamford Plaza hotel – which is acting as a quarantine hotel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision follows a sharp spike in cases in Victoria, which is the only state to have reported 12 consecutive days with cases in the double digits.
The last day Victoria recorded 49 cases overnight was on April 3, which marked the end of a horror week at the height of the pandemic which saw 511 new cases.
Mr Andrews said he would not rule out placing Melbourne’s hotspot suburbs under lockdown if cases continued to rise.
‘If we have to further limit movement in some of those suburbs, so for instance, a stay-at-home order – much like we all, as a community, had to endure for what felt like the longest of times – if that is deemed the appropriate public health response, then that is what we’ll do,’ he said.
‘We’ll do it if we need to.’
Premier Daniel Andrews has announced Victoria is implementing mandatory testing for all quarantined travellers as the state carries out a testing blitz in Melbourne’s suburbs amid a significant spike in COVID-19 cases
SUNDAY’S NEW CASES FROM KNOWN OUTBREAKS
One case from the Stamford Plaza
One case from the Coles Keilor Downs family outbreak
One case from the North Melbourne family outbreak
One case linked to the Brimbank family outbreak
There were earlier expectations $1,600 fines would be introduced for quarantined travellers who refuse to get swab tested for the virus.
Mr Andrews said he wouldn’t rule out introducing fines for those who refuse tests in quarantine, but that a decision would be made on Tuesday when more results come in from the testing blitz.
‘Anyone who does not consent to a test will not be able to leave hotel quarantine for a further ten days,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘There is also the opportunity open to us to fine anyone who does not agree to a test.
‘But everybody who is leaving today, from right now, if they don’t agree to a test, then they will be in our care for a total of 24 days – not 14 days.
‘It is my judgement that if it was simply a fine and nothing else, then there may be some people in hotel quarantine, people of means… who may well pay the fine in order to get out.’
Mr Andrews said those in hotel quarantine in the state are already being tested at a rate of between 80 to 85 per cent.
He added 780,000 tests had been conducted in Victoria since January 1 and a new less-invasive saliva testing would start from Sunday.
Previously, swabs were taken from the nasal passage and back of the throat.
The suburbs being targeted as part of the Victorian government’s widespread testing – dubbed the Suburban Testing Blitz by authorities – are Keilor Downs, Broadmeadows, Maidstone, Albanvale, Sunshine West, Hallam, Brunswick West, Fawkner, Reservoir and Pakenham.
Guests at the Stamford Hotel in Melbourne are seen wearing masks as they get into taxis on Thursday. Victoria has confirmed another 49 cases of COVID-19 overnight
Staff inside the Stamford Hotel in Melbourne wearing masks are seen moving luggage for guests in quarantine on June 25
‘Much like a bushfire, putting this out is challenging,’ Mr Andrews said. ‘Containing it, though, is something we can do, and [testing and contact tracing] is the most effective thing to do.’
Health workers are going door-to-door in Keilor Downs and Broadmeadows, with mobile testing vans and expanded community engagement teams on the ground.
Residents in the two areas were also sent emergency text messages on Saturday, urging testing.
Australian Defence Force medical and support personnel are understood to have arrived in Victoria to help the state’s efforts.
Melbourne is still on high alert, after it was revealed on Saturday that a Metro worker based at Flinders Street Station, the city’s busiest, was infected with the deadly virus.
So far 13 other Metro staff members have been forced into home quarantine amid concerns the worker may have been infectious on shift.
Military officers are seen lending a hand at a coronavirus testing centre at the Melbourne Showgrounds on Saturday (pictured)
Members of the Australian Defence Force are seen putting on PPE as they were drafted in to help perform thousands of COVID-19 tests in Melbourne on Saturday (pictured)
There were fears leading into Sunday’s press conference that if the rate of infection continues to surge with sustained community transmissions, police road checkpoints may be brought in at six COVID-19 trouble spots – Hume, Casey, Brimbank, Moreland, Cardinia and Darebin.
Although such a move would be unprecedented in Victoria, similar local area roadblocks were introduced in Tasmania when a massive outbreak occurred in the state’s northwest in April.
The rest of Australia has largely contained any coronavirus outbreaks, with several states not reporting a community infection for weeks, but Victoria has seen a week of double-digit infections.
As a result, stay-at-home orders introduced by the federal government in March have largely been eased across the country, but it now appears parts of Victoria could be called to undergo another shut down.
Under the heightened restrictions, the only valid reasons for leaving home would be for work, study, essential shopping, care-giving and exercise.
VICTORIA’S SPIKE IN COVID-19 CASES
Source: Department of Health and Human Services
On Friday, Victoria’s deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen (pictured) acknowledged about 30 per cent of returned travellers have refused a COVID-19 test
More than 19,000 travellers have undergone hotel quarantine since returning to Victoria, with at least 200 later testing positive for the deadly virus.
But early indications suggest up to 30 per cent had refused the test.
In New South Wales, returned international travellers who refuse to have the test on day ten must stay an extra ten days in quarantine.
NSW has a two per cent test refusal rate, authorities said on Saturday.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it was important to test and trace as many people as possible to prevent the spread of the virus.
‘It is very important that people do put themselves forward to have these tests because ultimately if someone gets coronavirus they are endangering the lives others across the community,’ he told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.
Victorian opposition leader Michael O’Brien said it made no sense that people could refuse the test, and if so, should pay for their stay.
‘If people in quarantine refuse a test how about we just make them pay for their own stay, and I think that’ll sort it out pretty quickly,’ he told reporters on Saturday.
People in face masks leave Flinders Street Station on Saturday June 21 (pictured). A Metro worker based at the station has since tested positive for coronavirus
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (pictured on Thursday) was last week forced to roll back eased coronavirus restrictions due to the second spike in cases
CORONAVIRUS CRISIS – THE LATEST SNAPSHOT
* Victoria has 41 new coronavirus cases, including eight linked to known outbreaks, as it notches an 11th day of double-digit increases
* Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is concerned that about one-third of returned travellers quarantined in Melbourne hotels are refusing to take COVID-19 tests, as the state government seeks legal advice about whether it can force people to get tested
* More than 250 repatriated Australians returned home on a flight from Mumbai via Singapore and will begin two weeks of quarantine in an Adelaide hotel
* Returned international travellers who refuse to be tested for COVID-19 on the 10th day of hotel quarantine in NSW will be made to extend their stay by an extra 10 days
* The major banks have assured Mr Frydenberg they will continue to assist customers through the pandemic and beyond September when the six-month deferral of mortgage repayments ends.
* Mr Frydenberg says 20 per cent of bank customers have restarted their loan repayments.
EASING OF RESTRICTIONS
* The national cabinet has a three-phase plan to ease restrictions in the coming weeks and months. It’s up to states and territories to determine when to ease them
* JUNE 29 – SA to move to stage three of lifting virus restrictions and large venues like Adelaide Oval will be allowed up to 50 per cent normal capacity
* JULY 1 – NSW resumes community sport and will scrap a 50-person cap on indoor venues. Nationally, sporting venues with 40,000 seats will be allowed up to 25 per cent capacity
* JULY 10 – Queensland to reopen borders depending on case numbers
* JULY 12 – Victoria to ease limits from 20 to 50 people at restaurants, cafes and pubs
* JULY 17 – NT to reopen its borders
* July 18 – WA to lift all remaining virus restrictions except border closures
* JULY 20 – SA to open its borders to NSW, VIC and the ACT
* JULY 24 – Tasmania to reopen its borders
AUSTRALIAN CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS
* Australia has recorded 7640 cases, with 580 still active
* The national death toll is 104: NSW 51, Victoria 20, Tasmania 13, WA 9, Queensland 6, SA 4, ACT 3. (Two Queensland residents who died in NSW have been included in the official tolls of both states)
GLOBAL CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS
* Cases: at least 9,912,637
* Deaths: at least 497,067
* Recovered: at least 5,362,583.
Data current as of 1730 AEST June 27, taking in federal government and state/territory government updates, the Johns Hopkins virus tracker and Worldometer.