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Federal minister defends private aged care

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has launched an impassioned defence of private aged care nurses at the centre of Victoria’s coronavirus flashpoint.

The comments came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison cut short a tour of Queensland to urgently return to Canberra for aged care crisis talks.

There are 769 nursing home residents and staff infected with coronavirus across Melbourne, with four deaths reported on Tuesday.

Australian Defence Force officers and nurses have been used to plug staff shortages in one aged care home on Monday night after workers were stood down to isolate.

The federal government is sending an Australian Medical Assistance Team, which is usually for disaster relief, to Melbourne.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he had no confidence the private aged care system could keep residents safe.

“Some of the stories we’ve seen are unacceptable and I wouldn’t want my mum in some of those places,” he told reporters.

Mr Hunt’s father Alan, who was a state politician for more than three decades, spent the final months of his life in aged care.

“The idea that our carers, that our nurses are not providing that care, I think, is a dangerous statement to make,” the health minister said.

“They are wonderful human beings and I won’t hear a word against them.”

An emotional Mr Hunt said he could not imagine his father receiving better care than he did at the facility.

The bulk of the 167 coronavirus deaths in Australia have been people aged over 70, including 71 residents in aged care services.

The Victorian premier said while private aged care is commonwealth-regulated, state-employed registered nurses would be deployed to help stem workforce shortages.

Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck has been tasked with ensuring communication with families is fixed after severe disruptions.

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.”

Mr Marles urged the federal government to address the “unfolding calamity”, accusing the coalition of using glib one-liners over action.

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