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Virus 'time bomb' - death toll rising, 630 active cases in Victorian nursing homes

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Hundreds of Victorian aged care residents and staff are battling COVID-19 as the death toll continues to rise in the nation’s hardest-hit state.

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As Australia prepares to surpass the 15,000 cases mark, there have now been 161 deaths, most among people aged over 70, including, as of Sunday, 62 residents in aged care services.

Victoria on Sunday reported its deadliest day of the pandemic, with seven of its 10 deaths linked to outbreaks at aged care facilities. Today, authorities confirmed another six deaths, and 532 new cases – the largest daily increase reported by a state so far.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton said people in aged care facilities remained most at risk.

“Residents in these facilities will be people’s parents, grandparents, great grandparents and they are at significant risk of dying,” Sutton said.

“Where there are outbreaks in aged care, the mortality is extremely high. We know that from European outbreaks in particular where there are a number of people in deaths made up almost half of all deaths – deaths in aged care made up almost half of deaths in the UK, so these are critical areas.”

There were 630 active COVID-19 cases linked to residents and staff of at least 40 homes across the state, including 82 cases at Estia Health in Ardeer and 84 at St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner.

“Aged care is the biggest risk for us with the current COVID outbreak,” federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck told Seven’s Sunrise on Monday.

“It is very much a victim of the community transmission that is going through Victoria at the moment. There are a number of facilities we are extremely concerned about.”

Some 400 health staff in Victoria have tested positive, posing rostering challenges at health and aged care facilities as they self-isolate and hopefully recover.

NSW today recorded 17 new cases, including eight in hotel quarantine and seven linked to existing clusters, while Queensland again recorded no new cases.

The federal and Victorian governments on the weekend set up a response centre, which starts work from Monday, to co-ordinate efforts to curb the virus spread.

Seven of the previous deaths were linked to outbreaks at aged care facilities, while the youngest was a man aged in his 40s.

It is the second virus fatality of a person younger than 50 in Australia, after a 42-year-old crew member of the Artania cruise ship died in a Perth hospital in April. Today, Victoria recorded the death of a man in his 50s among the older victims of the disease.

The federal government held an online information session with families of residents at St Basil’s on Sunday night, after they gathered at the facility earlier in the day.

The families said they did not know if their relatives had been transferred to hospital with COVID-19 or what their condition was.

“We understand the emotional impact the situation is having on residents, staff and families,” Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said in a statement.

“Our priority remains the health and wellbeing of those residents who remain on-site while also ensuring families have the information they need.”

Premier Daniel Andrews said outbreaks in aged care, health care, abattoirs and warehouses were largely behind Victoria’s second surge.

He said the health crisis has “very graphically exposed” insecure work as a structural weakness in the state’s economy and again pleaded with people to stay home if they were sick.

“There is a $300 payment available if are you in insecure work in between getting the test and getting the results,” Andrews said, urging those with even the mildest symptoms to get tested then immediately self-isolate.

-AAP

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