Victoria has detected another 459 coronavirus cases and 10 more people have died as Melbourne’s outbreak shows no signs of easing.
Seven men and three women, including a man in his 40s, died in the past 24 hours, Australia’s deadliest day since the pandemic began.
There are 228 Victorians in hospital with 42 in the ICU, many of whom are fighting for life on ventilators.
Premier Daniel Andrews said Victoria tested 42,573 people in that time, smashing its previous record of about 37,000 tests.
Mr Andrews refused to say whether the six-week lockdown, which is almost halfway over, would be extended or finish on time.
‘These things change rapidly, but wow have to say these numbers are far too high,’ he said.
‘We are approaching the halfway mark. We’ve been clear that it would get worse before it got better, but stability had to be achieved before we would start to see numbers fall.
‘I can’t tell you where we will be in another 3.5 weeks, but what I can confirm for you… is that the data will drive the decisions.’
Mr Andrews said the situation would be many times worse if the lockdown had not been imposed and ending it too early would be a disaster.
‘If you were to reopen now, say, then we would not be dealing with hundreds of cases a day, we would just, because of movement, because of change of transmission, we would be dealing with many thousands of cases per day,’ he said.
Mr Andrews said the death of the man in his 40s and studies showing long-term heath problems of some coronavirus survivors showed young people should be concerned too.
‘It is a wildly infectious virus and whether you have underlying complex health issues or whether you are otherwise healthy, people have died from all of those cohorts and more from right around the world,’ he said.
‘So there is no reason for anybody to think that because they are otherwise fit or because they are not in their 80s, then somehow they have essentially got a vaccine for this. They just don’t. Everybody is susceptible.
‘It presents in many, not all, but in many, as much more like a chronic illness where it takes quite some time to get over it.
‘This is not something anybody wants to get and shouldn’t be something anybody wants to give to anybody else.’
Tougher restrictions on Melbournians appear all but certain, but health officials doubt they would do much good as essential services are the hardest hit.
Among them are nursing homes where more than 260 vulnerable patients are battling the disease along with 256 infected carers.
Seven of Sunday’s deaths were nursing home patients in known outbreaks, with the other three including a man in his 40s not linked to a particular cluster.
The biggest outbreak is at St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner where 74 staff and residents tested positive.
St Basil’s is so concerned about the virus, which could be deadly to its elderly residents, ripping through the home that it evacuated 20 of them.
Estia Aged Care in Ardeer has 71 cases and Menarock Life Aged Care in Essendon has 60 – the two next badly-affected nursing homes.
There are 381 active cases among healthcare workers, Mr Andrews said.
‘That is a significant challenge, given, whilst we have overall capacity and we’ve worked very hard all throughout the year to grow the number of people that can be available for our fight against this virus in a clinical sense,’ he said.
‘Whenever we have clinical staff and other critical health workers away, furloughed because they are a close contact or in fact as an active case, that does put some additional pressure on our system.
‘It is not just about ordering the equipment that we need – gowns, gloves, masks, machines to help you breathe, patient monitors, actual beds, mattresses, all of those things.’
Mr Andrews urged Victorians to wear masks, which is compulsory in Melbourne and voluntary in the rest of the state.
‘I’m deeply grateful to all those Victorians who are. It is very impressive to see so many people,’ he said.
‘It makes you very proud to see so many people wearing masks right across the city, particularly in regional Victoria, too, where it’s not compulsory, but where you can’t maintain the 1.5m distance.
‘It is something we are asking you to do, and reports from across Victoria is that that is happening and that’s a fantastic, simple but powerful step we can take to try to curb the spread of this virus.’
But police are tied up dealing with people who have long confrontations with staff at businesses that enforce mask wearing as a condition of entry.
Other obstinate Victorians rage at officers at checkpoints, including conspiracy theorists who believe they are above the law.
People who don’t wear a mask face a $200 fine, and Mr Andrews hit out at a series of ‘sovereign citizens’ who claim the directive is invalid.
‘If it was a genuine error, a sense of any confusion – police use good judgement,’ he said.
‘They are trying to be fair as they possibly can be, but if you are just making a selfish choice that your alleged personal liberty, quoting some, I don’t know, something you’ve read on some website – this is not about human rights.
‘There are 10 families that are going to be burying someone in the next few days. Wear a mask! It’s not too much to ask.
‘What’s more, the nurse who will be treating you or a loved one, they will be wearing a mask, so you wear one to prevent that nurse from having to treat more patients.
‘It can’t get any more serious than that. 10 families are currently planning funerals. And the youngest among them, this he have’ lost someone in their 40s.’
Mr Andrews also pleaded with Victorians to stay home while they wait for coronavirus test results – as thousands have failed to do.
He highlighted that $300 payments were available for people who had to skip work following a test so they could afford to stay home.
‘If you have symptoms, get tested and get tested quickly. Wait for your results at home,’ he said.
‘Don’t go to work, don’t go shopping, don’t leave your house. That is a really important, powerful contribution that everybody can make.
‘We just can’t have people going to work, for whatever reason, while they’ve got a runny nose, scratchy throat, headache, fever, all of the warning signs that you’ve got this virus.’
Mr Andrews pointed out that many of the outbreaks were in workplaces of essential services that couldn’t shut down, so not working while sick was paramount.
‘Even with universal mask-wearing if you are going to work, you are an unacceptably high risk of it to co-workers and lots people, and that’s why we are seeing outbreaks in different areas,’ he said.
The premier warned bosses to let their employees take time off to get tested and not punish them for doing the right thing for the state.
And if they broke this directive, he would personally be on their case.
‘If you have any examples of any employer who is making decisions against the interests of anybody who is doing the right thing, I’m more than happy to follow that up,’ he said.
‘Because anyone not going to work because of symptoms, or because they’re waiting for a test result, is actually doing the best of work.
‘They are protecting their workmates, they’re protecting all of us.’
Mr Andrews said the problem of people feeling they couldn’t take the day off if they were sick or were waiting for tests exposed a serious problem with Australia’s labour market.
He argued that once the pandemic was over, the county needed a reckoning on the increasing casualised and insecure workforce.
‘I think we’ve been far more focused on the pandemic than a much bigger issue which is a structural weakness in our economy that has been very graphically exposed,’ he said.
‘Insecure work is no good for public health in terms of dealing with a global pandemic, and there are many other attendant challenges.’
‘Now is not the time for us to be having a debate or discussion about that, but out of this pandemic there are many, many learnings.
‘One of them is insecure work. The notion of not having that connectivity, the basic entitlements that all of us in this room enjoy – that is a real challenge, not just for public health, but a challenge for providing for your family, for stability.
‘That is something we have to return to, not just as Victorians, but perhaps at a national level once this is over.’
As Victoria approaches three weeks of triple-digit daily case rises and rising deaths, questions are being asked about what more can be done.
‘People have talked about stage four and a broader shutdown but the very places where we are seeing outbreaks, the very places where we are seeing transmission, are the places that would remain open if we went to a stage four sectoral shutdown,’ Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told reporters on Saturday.
Such places include aged care homes, hospitals and food processing facilities which are all essential services.
Premier Daniel Andrews on Saturday said ‘masks are effectively our stage four’, though he refused to rule out further restrictions.
Police have been fining people for not wearing masks and for failing to abide by stay-at-home restrictions.
In the 24 hours to Saturday evening, police handed out almost 100 infringement notices, including to a man who was on a two-hour drive out of Melbourne to visit a friend.
The alarming number of infections across the state’s aged care sector has attracted federal input with the establishment of a centralised aged care response centre.
The federal government will oversee the operation from Emergency Management Victoria’s Melbourne hub.
One-third of the state’s COVID-19 deaths are linked to aged care and there are 536 active cases across 38 facilities.
There are 3,995 active cases in Victoria and 61 people have died. Cases rose by 357 on Saturday, 300 on Friday and 403 on Thursday.
Public housing outbreaks continue in large numbers with 300 active cases at towers in North Melbourne and Flemington and 66 cases in Carlton.
There are 183 linked to Al-Taqwa College in Truganina and dozens of active cases in food production, including 45 linked to the Australian Lamb Company in Colac.
Restrictions are causing dire concern at the Victoria-NSW border with doctors warning in an open letter to NSW Health that long border queues could have tragic consequences for Victorians in need of emergency care.
Emergency surgery, ICU and paediatric services are all based in Albury with no practical alternatives nearby in Victoria.
Media reports say there have already been a few near misses, including a Wodonga child choking but having to wait 30 minutes in a border queue to cross the border to hospital.