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Chasing the beast: All states ramp up virus alert levels as Melbourne extends lockdown

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The decision to extend Melbourne’s latest lockdown for another week has placed other states, including Queensland, on heightened alert as they ramp up efforts to ensure as many Australians as possible are quickly vaccinated.

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The Queensland government announced it would join the coronavirus vaccine drive in private aged care amid concerns about the speed of the federal government’s rollout.

Regardless of their age, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the residential aged care and disability support workers will be given priority access to the Pfizer vaccine.

“Not all of our workers who were supposed to be vaccinated already by the Commonwealth in the 1A group have been done, we’re not going to wait any longer,” D’Ath said.

“We will look after you, we will give you Pfizer which means you can be fully vaccinated in three weeks.”

The federal Department of Health has administered 72,772 vaccine doses in private aged care facilities as of June 1.

It’s unclear how many aged care workers are currently fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Queensland.

Melbourne’s restrictions will now last until June 10, while conditions in regional Victoria will still ease from Thursday night.

“If we let this thing run its course, it will explode,” Victoria’s Acting Premier James Merlino said.

“We’ve got to run this to ground because if we don’t, people will die.

“And if that happens, it’s our most vulnerable – it’s our parents, it’s our grandparents, it’s Victorians with underlying conditions or compromised immunity, it is those Victorians who will pay the price.”

The state’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton defended the government’s strong rhetoric around the latest outbreak.

“I have described it as an absolute beast because we have to run it to the ground,” he said.

Parts of NSW have also been drawn into the outbreak after a man with coronavirus travelled through a slew of towns last month.

There are also renewed calls for an overhaul of hotel quarantine after a man in Perth became infected by a fellow returned traveller in a room next door.

Federal Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck reacted to the lockdown extension during a second day of gruelling Senate estimates hearings in Canberra.

“It’s unfortunate that they have had to. It’s unfortunate the circumstances the Victorians find themselves in,” he said on Wednesday.

Workers should have been vaccinated at the same time as residents, D’Ath said.

“We want to step in and help, we want to get them all vaccinated (and) we don’t want to risk the most vulnerable people in our community being exposed to COVID,” she said.

There were almost 258,000 Queenslanders accessing state-run and private aged care or home support in June 2020, according to the federal figures.

About 33,500 people were working in residential aged care facilities alone in the state at the time of the last census in 2016.

All state and private aged care residents, home care users and workers require two vaccine doses.

That means about 583,000 doses at the very least will need to be administered for Queensland’s aged care sector to be fully vaccinated.

The state reported no new community cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday with one new case in hotel quarantine.

For the second day running, however, there was a delay in testing numbers which the government did not explain.

“Full testing numbers are delayed, but if you get sick please go and get tested,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk tweeted.

Federal Labor frontbencher Murray Watt argued serious holes in hotel quarantine and problems with the vaccine rollout showed the federal government was to blame.

“Every time this government doesn’t do its job there are consequences. People lose their jobs. People get COVID. People can’t move around,” he told the minister.

“When are you going to start doing your job?”

Senator Colbeck said he completely rejected the criticism.

Respected health adviser Jane Halton, who undertook a major review of quarantine, said recent breaches in hotels were because her recommendations were not being adopted.

“I’m disappointed that it certainly appears that we don’t have continual adoption of best practice right across the system,” she told ABC radio.

“To say that I’m disappointed about that I think is the minimum.”

Ms Halton said it was perplexing it had taken so long to increase capacity at the Howard Springs quarantine camp in the NT and look at facilities in other states.

Talks between the Victorian and federal governments are understood to be progressing on a stand-alone quarantine facility.

The Australian Medical Association is calling for urgent quarantine changes after the latest Perth infection, the 21st recorded breach in hotels.

Victoria’s coronavirus outbreak has grown to 60 cases across more than 350 exposure sites with none of the six new cases in aged care.

Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham was non-committal on providing more federal support for the state because of the lockdown.

“We have said over the course of the last week we would continue to monitor the situation that relates to Victoria and respond accordingly,” he said.

The federal government is also facing questions about the vaccine rollout to aged care residents and staff, as well as home care workers.

The number of aged care workers who are fully vaccinated is unknown and many residents are yet to receive their second doses.

More than three months after the rollout began, less than two-thirds of nationwide aged care residents have been fully vaccinated.

The number is lower in Victoria where four facilities have been forced into lockdown due to the outbreak.

 

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