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Vic reviews virus hot spots school return

Students in Melbourne’s coronavirus hotspots could return to online learning after the school holidays, following a worrying rise in cases of community transmission.

Victoria recorded 77 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, marking the 16th day of double-digit case numbers in the state.

Many of the cases are localised in Melbourne’s inner north and west, prompting the lockdown of more than 300,000 residents in 10 postcodes from Thursday until July 29.

Residents of these postcodes will only be able to leave their homes to shop for food and supplies, to receive or provide care, to exercise and to study or work if they can’t do so from home.

Of the new cases, five are linked to Albanvale Primary School – which is in one of the locked-down postcodes – including three students, a teacher and another close contact. There are now 14 people in the cluster.

A further two cases have been linked to a cluster at Al-Taqwa College in Truganina, which now totals 15, and one case was linked to Springside Primary School.

With 17 schools closed in recent weeks for cleaning following COVID-19 cases, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he will review whether students in the locked-down areas should return to school.

“I will give as much notice as I can around the resumption of school in those restricted postcodes,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“The expectation is schools will return, but I do want to see both that we are turning transmission around but also that we don’t have such levels of community transmission with students becoming infected that our resourcing is all focused on response to cases in schools.”

Also on Thursday, the state government confirmed veteran judge Jennifer Coate will lead the inquiry into Victoria’s hotel quarantine program.

A large proportion of the state’s recent cases has been traced back to infection control breaches in hotels hosting returned travellers, with allegations staff were under-trained, did not wear adequate personal protective equipment and even slept with guests.

The program has been put on hold for a fortnight, with Corrections Victoria set to take over the operation from private security firms.

The inquiry will report its findings by September 25.

Professor Sutton said he wasn’t aware of breaches from staff at the hotels, but hoped the inquiry would help reveal possible mistakes.

Of Thursday’s new cases, 13 are linked to known outbreaks, 37 were detected through routine testing and 27 are under investigation. None were returned travellers.

Professor Sutton said a large number of the day’s cases were detected in the hot zones, but not exclusively, and warned the continued growth meant more people could die.

“When you’ve got 70-odd cases every day, there is absolutely an expectation that some of those people will die,” he said.

So far, 2303 Victorians have had coronavirus and 20 people have died.

There are now 415 active cases and 20 patients in hospital, including four in intensive care.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said Melbourne residents now back in lockdown shouldn’t feel like they are alone during this time.

“Many people finding themselves back in lockdown today will be feeling anxious and fearful, many may be angry and frustrated and many may be feeling somewhat despondent,” he said in Canberra.

“It may help to recall … the things we came to value during the first period of being in lockdown – the importance of staying connected with each other, even while we are physically distanced.”

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