Australia

LIVE: Mike Pence’s chief of staff has COVID-19

Results have been coming in from a testing blitz conducted in northern Melbourne, with more than 1135 tests returning negative, after fears there could be a spike of new cases in the region led Premier Daniel Andrews to announce a "pause" on lifting restrictions.

Victoria has passed the magic number five for the 14-day average of new COVID-19 cases, but restrictions aren’t lifting yet.

An emerging cluster has prompted fears the average will go back up above five on Monday, and the state’s Premier Daniel Andrews today announced a “pause” on an expected announcement that restrictions would start lifting.

While the 14-day average has been the focus number, there’s another one Victorians need to be aware of.

The number is still five, but this time it relates to the amount of cases in the state over the previous fortnight that still haven’t been traced to a known source (which indicates the community transmission everyone wants to avoid).

On Sunday, Victorian contact tracers were still looking for the source of nine cases.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Sunday’s announcement was a “profound disappointment” and “ensuring the state government’s capability to deal with outbreaks through their public health response is so essential”.

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry joined other business groups on Sunday afternoon in slamming the pause on restrictions lifting, and similarly questioned the state’s ability to trace contacts.

“The delay announced today can only point to a lack of confidence in the efficacy of the contact tracing system and the ability of health officials to manage the COVID-19 crisis,” the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said. 

Earlier on Sunday, chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton was asked why Melbourne had been in lockdown for so long, with the claim its lockdown was the “longest in the world”.

But Dr Sutton was quick to correct the line of questioning, stating there were lockdowns in other countries that were longer and harsher than Melbourne’s.

“It’s not the longest in the world, there are a dozen or more countries that have had longer lockdowns, there are many countries that have had stricter lockdowns, and countries that have had longer and stricter lockdowns,” he said.

It comes after the state’s Premier Daniel Andrews has received criticism for delaying the city’s plans to reopen while awaiting the results of a testing blitz in the city’s northern suburbs where a new outbreak has occurred. 

Mr Andrews said plans to ease harsh lockdown restrictions in the city are on “pause” despite the 14-day average dropping to 4.6.

“We had hoped today to be able to announce that metropolitan Melbourne would take significant steps, not from today but from mid week, around retail, hospitality and a whole range of other, important next steps,” he said.

However he said the city was “not in a position” to proceed with those plans because there were “at least 1000 test results from that northern metropolitan outbreak that are in the labs”.

He’s now set to update Melbourne on its lockdown conditions on Tuesday. 

The bold move came after the state recorded seven new cases today, six of which were from the new cluster.

Follow our live coronavirus news coverage below.

Live Updates

Jack Gramenz

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has received more than 1000 test results this evening, with no new cases linked to the northern Melbourne outbreak as yet.

More than 1135 results were returned to the Department.

In excess of 13,000 people have been tested in Banyule, Darebin, Hume, Moreland and Nillumbik since Tuesday.

1400 tests from today are in the labs and testing will continue overnight.

39 cases are currently linked to the outbreak.

“This testing enables us to get a very clear picture of how many cases there are and ensure there is a plan in place for everyone who tests positive along with the close contacts," Victoria’s Commander of Testing and Community Engagement Jeroen Weimar said.
“There will at times no doubt be delays as more people come forward, but we are so appreciative of everyone making the effort, particularly during these colder spring days.”

DHHS is still tracing links between the outbreak and other positive cases within the area.

Mr Weimar said the community’s actions "showed a real willingness to do whatever was necessary to get on top of the virus and assist in managing its transmission".

Victorians were disappointed on Sunday by the news there would be a "pause" on the lifting of restrictions as the state waited for results of a testing blitz in response to the outbreak in northern Melbourne, even though the 14-day average of new cases dropped below five.

Additionally, there are nine cases that have not been traced to a known source yet, and there needs to be less than five in the past 14 days.

Jack Gramenz

Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett wants to know why Victoria's contact tracing system is so woeful, if that is indeed what's stopping the state from opening up again.

"How long have we had this virus? How long have we had contact tracing problems here in Victoria? Why haven't they been addressed if they are the problem? I'm not arguing that it may be the problem, but if it is the problem, why has it taken months to get it right?" Mr Kennett said on The Project Sunday night.

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He also claimed Victoria "wouldn't be in this situation" if he was still Premier.

Mr Kennett, a former Liberal Premier who served for seven years more than two decades ago, has been a vocal critic of Daniel Andrews and his Labor government during the pandemic.

On Sunday night he further alleged that the situation "has been disastrously handled and the corruption in the failure of the Government and its ministers and public servants to be honest with the community they lead only compounds the problem."

"So often is the case, it's not the original mistakes that have become the major issue, it's the cover-up that continues to this day."

Panelist Peter van Onselen then questioned Mr Kennett's "inflated rhetoric" (the very same "rhetoric" that you might argue has made Mr Kennett a regular guest on The Project and other shows in recent months) after he likened Victoria to a "communist" state.

"How would you describe it? We're locked down. We've had curfews. We can't travel around our state. Businesses can't open, and they are all decisions of one man," Mr Kennett claimed.

"Alright, I accept communism — a bit over the top, but it is a dictatorship. He doesn't listen to people in his own party. He doesn't listen to business community and health officials," Mr Kennett said, further alleging that Premier Andrews "is making these decisions on his own".

When PVO suggested that "over the top" was a better way of describing Victoria's lockdown situation, rather than "communist" or "dictatorship", Mr Kennett wasn't having it.

"You're very lucky because you've still got a job. Over the top. You keep drawing your salary, my friend. You are very, very fortunate. I tell you what, there are a lot of people here in Victoria who will never ever recover from the way we've handled this virus."

Jack Gramenz

We're less than an hour away from kickoff in the NRL grand final as the Penrith Panthers face off against the Melbourne Storm at ANZ Stadium, and NSW prepares to host its biggest event since the onset of COVID-19.

Attendance has been capped at 40,000.

In preparation, the venue has reportedly purchased 50,000 masks, with staff handing them out at the gates according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Fans will also have to stay in their seats unless buying food and drinks or going to the bathroom.

QR codes have been placed around the venue so people can register their attendance to help contact tracers if someone in the crowd later tests positive to COVID-19.

Temperature checks are also being conducted.

Fans are being encouraged to stick around when the game ends to watch the presentation and post-match interviews, and avoid the crowd all trying to leave at the same time (though one team's fans will be more keen to stick around than the other's).

Earlier in the NRLW Grand Final, the Brisbane Broncos restored some much needed pride to Red Hill after the men's team were left with the wooden spoon for the first time in the club's history.

The Broncos defeated the Roosters 20-10 to clinch the competition, completing a three-peat for the Brisbane women's team.

They're still the only team to win the NRLW competition, which started in 2018 and has only four teams.

Jack Gramenz

Several members of US Vice President Mike Pence's "inner circle" have reportedly joined hundreds of thousands of other Americans who tested positive to coronavirus in the past few days.

According to the New York Times, Mr Pence's chief of staff Marc Short, a top adviser named Marty Obst, and a yet-to-be-named third staffer recently tested positive.

Mr Pence and his wife have returned negative tests and the Vice President "will maintain his schedule in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for essential personnel", according to a statement from a press aide (not the White House Medical Unit).

The NYT reported "two people briefed on the matter said that the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, had sought to keep news of the outbreak from becoming public".

Jack Gramenz

South Australia has reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, all of them returned overseas travellers currently in hotel quarantine.

A boy, a woman in her 20s, a man in his 40s, and a man in his 70s all travelled separately from one another and have been in hotel quarantine since they arrived in Australia.

SA has 12 active cases.

Jack Gramenz

The WA Department of Health has reported three new cases of COVID-19 in Western Australia.

The new confirmed cases – one man and two women aged in their 20s– have returned to Perth from overseas.

They are all in hotel quarantine and there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in WA hospitals.

The State’s confirmed COVID-19 case total is now 760.

There are 57 active cases being monitored by WA Health and 694 people have recovered from the virus.

Yesterday 369 people presented to WA COVID-19 clinics – 363 were assessed and 362 swabbed.

Jack Gramenz

Leo Schlink, NCA NewsWire

The famed Melbourne Cup carnival will be held without crowds after the Victoria Racing Club conceded on Sunday it “will not be possible to welcome spectators” because of COVID-19 restrictions.

VRC chairman Amanda Elliott said the VRC had worked closely with authorities over the last few months and had tendered a comprehensive submission to the Victorian Government detailing how the VRC could safely host small crowds within government and public health guidelines.

The club said it was “now clear that none of this is possible”.

READ MORE: No crowds for the Melbourne Cup

Jack Gramenz

Gerard Cockburn, NCA NewsWire

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has lashed out at Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews over his decision not to lift coronavirus restrictions, keeping the vast majority of businesses closed.

Mr Morrison said he was profoundly disappointed in the state government’s decision to extend Melbourne’s lockdown measures, despite metropolitan COVID-19 cases falling below a rolling 14-day average of five cases.

Premier Andrews previously stated when cases fell below an average of five, some retail and hospitality businesses would be able to open under COVID-19 safe protocols.

The Prime Minister said the continued lockdown suggested the state government was not confident its health system was capable of suppressing transmission of the virus.

The Victorian government said issues its contact tracing system that led to its second outbreak had significantly improved.

READ MORE: PM’s ‘profound disappointment’ at continued Victoria lockdown

Jack Gramenz

Many Melburnians have been disappointed to hear that restrictions won't be eased for metropolitan Melbourne yet, as was hoped to be announced today.

One of the triggers for the lifting of restrictions is for the 14-day average of new cases to fall below five, which it has now done.

The 14-day average is 4.6 in metropolitan Melbourne and 4.9 for the rest of the state.

An emerging cluster has brought fears that the average will go back above five when the test results come in tomorrow.

Premier Daniel Andrews is expected to provide another update on Tuesday.

But there's another trigger that has to be met before restrictions can be eased.

In addition to the 14-day rolling average of new cases, there also needs to be fewer than five cases from an unknown source in the last 14 days.

On Sunday, there were nine cases in Victoria that still hadn't been traced to a source.

While Victorians have largely been dutifully complying with the restrictions in an effort to beat the virus (and also to avoid heavy fines for non-compliance from police who have been given new powers during the state's second wave), the state's contact tracing efforts (and more crucially its abilities) are facing increasing scrutiny.

NSW has had higher 14-day averages, but is perceived as having a better contact tracing system that has allowed the state to quickly trace and contain new clusters.

The COVIDSafe app, designed to help contact tracers, hasn't been much help in Victoria (due to the performance of the app itself and the fact people have largely been restricted to home).

The Victorian government has said issues with its contact tracing system had significantly improved.

At the start of the pandemic, some Victorian contact tracers were using pen and paper.

Jack Gramenz

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has joined other business groups in slamming the "pause" on coronavirus restrictions being lifted that Premier Daniel Andrews disappointed many by announcing in lieu of changes to restrictions on Sunday.

"Victorian businesses are shattered today after the Victorian Government left restrictions unchanged across metropolitan Melbourne following an outbreak in the northern suburbs," the organisation said in a statement.

It called for scrutiny of the state's contact tracing capabilities, saying "questions remain on the efficacy of the Government's contact tracing system".

It was hoped restrictions would have started lifting last Monday if the state's 14-day average dropped below five, a target that wasn't hit.

The 14-day average is now 4.6, but widespread testing has been conducted as a cluster emerged in recent days.

When those results come in it might push the average back above the magic number it recently crept under.

“Victorians have done everything asked of them to reduce infections to an average of less than five new cases per day – meeting the Government’s very cautious target for metropolitan Melbourne – only to see the goalposts move once again," Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said.

“The delay announced today can only point to a lack of confidence in the efficacy of the contact tracing system and the ability of health officials to manage the COVID-19 crisis.” 

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