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Troops brought in to help manage Victoria's aged care virus catastrophe


Hospital staff and army medics are being sent into Victoria’s aged care facilities in the wake of the rising death toll amongst the elderly following the coronavirus outbreak in the state.


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They will fill staffing gaps at the centres after national Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth noted some senior nurses and managers had to avoid work or comply with isolation orders to avoid spreading the virus.

“No business in Australia has a business continuity plan that accounts for their entire workforce not being able to go to work,” he told Nine Network on Wednesday.

“I think in a lot of ways that has led some of the most affected institutions to where they are now.”

Victoria today recorded 295 more coronavirus cases and another nine deaths.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday said the new deaths were two people in their 90s, five in their 80s, one in their 70s and another aged in their 60s.

Seven of the nine are linked to private aged care facilities.

The deaths take the state’s toll to 92 and the national figure to 176. Four of Victoria’s six deaths on Tuesday were linked to outbreaks in aged care.

The federal government has defended its response to the “distressing” outbreak of coronavirus cases and deaths, promising improvements in the next 24 hours.

“The situation that we have been facing, particularly in recent days and weeks in Victoria for aged, care has been very distressing,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday.

Multiple aged care and nursing homes in the state have staffing gaps due to workers being required to comply with quarantine orders to avoid spreading the virus, putting the welfare of residents at risk.

All the homes are regulated by the federal government, which together with the Victorian government is trying to get the outbreak under control.

“The challenges of dealing with aged care are not unique to Australia … it is inevitable that this (virus) will find its way into aged care facilities,” Mr Morrision said.

“When it rains, everyone gets wet. And that is what we’re seeing with broad-based community transmission in Victoria.”

The homes most affected are Estia Health Aged Care in Ardeer, St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner and Epping Gardens Aged Care.

Federal Health Department Secretary Dr Brendan Murphy said a number of residents were being moved out the homes and into hospitals.

“Our biggest concern at the moment is [the] facility in Epping, Epping Gardens,” he said.

“We are putting in some very senior workforce to cope with the loss of the many senior staff in that facility who unfortunately had to quarantine.

“We are very confident we will have that facility stable … in the next 24 hours.”

There are now 4775 active COVID-19 cases across Victoria and 769 of those are linked to aged care homes and 414 involve health workers.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday told Melbourne radio 3AW said the federal and state governments agreed Victoria needed a plan for aged care setting when staff were asked to stay home.

He declined to say if some facilities were left without staff and pointed to hotel quarantine breaches in Melbourne as the origin of Victoria’s crisis.

Australian Defence Force personnel have been deployed to aid in contact tracing as well as in aged care settings.

Premier Daniel Andrews this week said he wouldn’t want his mother in some of the federally regulated homes, prompting an emotional defence of carers and nurses from Mr Hunt.

Elective surgery has been suspended in metropolitan Melbourne, except for category one and the most urgent category two procedures.

This has been done to free up hospital beds to treat aged care residents and allow health workers to go into the homes to cover staff shortages.

Meanwhile, infection outbreaks at meatworks across Melbourne have also increased, with 99 cases linked to Somerville Meats Retail Services in Tottenham and 89 associated with Bertocchi Smallgoods in Thomastown.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre confirmed a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.

All ASRC sites were closed on Wednesday to undergo deep cleaning and contact tracing.


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