Victoria COVID LIVE updates: Businesses plead for help as Melbourne’s lockdown extended, more exposure sites added

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Bus route, swimming pool, scout hall and music school added to swelling list of exposure sites

The list of exposure sites across Victoria has swelled to 370.

The latest cases, added just after 7.30pm yesterday, include another bus route that runs through Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The route is now listed as a tier 1 exposure site after a positive case rode the line while contagious six times.

The 357 bus line, which runs from Wollert to Thomastown, was an exposure site on May 28 from 3.08pm to 3.18pm, on May 26 from 9.22pm to 9.46pm and 8.46am to 9.11am, on May 25 from 9.22am to 9.46pm and 8.46am to 9.11am, and on May 24 from 4.44pm to 5.17pm.

Other exposure sites listed yesterday include Elite Swimming Ascot Vale, in Melbourne’s inner north west, on May 25 between 5.15pm and 6pm.

Costco Wholesale in Docklands is a tier 1 exposure site on May 31 between 3.30pm and 4.20pm.

Tier 2 sites added yesterday include Joeys Scouts Carlton, in Carlton North, on May 25 between 5.15pm and 6pm, and Brunswick music school Faculty of Music on May 27 from 4pm to 5.30pm.

Flagstaff Gardens was also added as a tier 2 site after a case used the playground facilities on May 28 between 2.30pm and 4.30pm.

No additional exposure sites were added overnight in relation to the Melbourne family who travelled through Goulburn and Gundagai, with NSW Health updating their list here.

If you have visited a tier 1 exposure site during the times listed, please immediately isolate, get a COVID-19 test, and quarantine for 14 days from the date of exposure.

Those who visited a tier 2 site should urgently get a test and isolate until they receive a negative result.

‘A lot of fear’ among Victorian business owners: Ai Group boss

The chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox, says the Victorian government was too slow to offer support to the state’s shuttered restaurants, bars, cafes and other enterprises.

Yesterday, Victoria’s acting Premier James Merlino unveiled a $209 million business support package amid renewed pleas for federal assistance. But many small businesses who are enduring their fourth lockdown and struggling to pay staff, let alone stay afloat, say more money is needed.

Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“For many businesses, it just won’t be enough,” Mr Willox told the Today show a short while ago.

“[There’s] a feeling of uncertainty, a lot of fear, to be honest. People are desperately worried about their livelihoods and their jobs.”

Mr Willox said while $209 million seemed like a lot of money, businesses could lose billions of dollars collectively if the lockdown continued beyond next week.

“It’s going to take a lot … to recover,” he said. “Particularly in Melbourne in the CBD which was really still very, very quiet before this lockdown was called. Its chances of recovery now are even slimmer.

“And of course, there will be more lockdowns. That is the view that people now have in Melbourne. That is what history tells us.”

‘Golden window’ to beat virus missed, says new AMA Victoria head

Many doctors have said Australia is perfectly placed to get ahead of COVID-19, but the Australian Medical Association’s new Victorian president could be the first to declare the opportunity has been squandered.

“You have to be honest and say yes, the golden window is gone,” Roderick McRae said. “But we are at silver, and let’s maximise what we can do.”

Anaesthetist Dr Roderick McRae is the new president of the Australian Medical Association in Victoria.Credit:Joe Armao

Dr McRae, an anaesthetist, intensive care doctor and qualified lawyer, was appointed last week to lead the doctors’ group, taking on the job in the midst of another worrying coronavirus outbreak in Victoria and a health system under immense strain.

In an interview following his election, he said it was now clear Australians had fallen victim to collective complacency in the past six months, and there had been a missed opportunity for better education about vaccines and to remove hurdles to vaccination.

The national vaccination program, already set back by supply delays, has been further hampered by a lack of enthusiasm from the public. Some of Victoria’s mass vaccination hubs were running at half their capacity before the recent outbreak shook some of the complacency.

Dr McRae said some decisions by governments had sent the wrong message to Australians – including the federal government’s program to subsidise half-price domestic flights.

“We were all kind of forgetting that we’re sitting on the safe, relatively isolated periphery of a roaring global pandemic,” Dr McRae said. “The iconic Australian ‘she’ll be right’ is very, very dangerous.”

Read more here.

Desperate businesses cry out for help as Canberra weighs options

The Morrison government is negotiating an assistance package to help Victorians who will lose income during the two-week lockdown, but it has ruled out offering wage subsidies to employees similar to the JobKeeper scheme.

The Commonwealth is canvassing the best way to offer the financial help but has resisted calls for a substantial package for Victoria, following days of pressure to support employees from the Andrews government and business, union and welfare groups.

Green Leaf Kebabs and Bakery owner Abdu Mohamed has warned the situation for Victorian businesses is dire. Credit:Chris Hopkins

Acting Premier James Merlino revealed a $209 million business support package yesterday as he announced the lockdown would be extended by a week and renewed pleas for federal assistance.

The package is in addition to the $250 million in support announced on Sunday and doubles grants for eligible businesses – up to $5000 for small businesses and $7000 for licensed venues.

But small businesses are pleading for extra help, warning the situation for Victorian firms is dire.

Business owner Abdu Mohamed has urged the Commonwealth to help.

He has operated Green Leaf Kebab and Bakery in Footscray since 2017 and employs three casual staff, who will go without pay for at least two weeks because of the lockdown.

“It’s very painful,” Mr Mohamed said. “It’s really challenging when you have six or seven hours to shut everything … Last week, we had to throw out $8000 worth of stock.

“It was a very challenging time last year, but we got some JobKeeper and a bit of small business support package, and we survived to pay the bills and wages … now there’s nothing.

Read more here.

Scientists find no evidence strain is ‘fast-moving beast’

The COVID-19 strain at the centre of the outbreak that has forced Melbourne into a second week of lockdown is not moving faster than other variants of the virus or spreading in new, unexpected ways, Australia’s peak pandemic advisory group has found.

The government justified yesterday’s extension of the lockdown by claiming what is now being called the “Kappa” variant of the virus is more contagious than previous outbreaks and infections are occurring more readily between people who only briefly came into contact.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton toned down his language yesterday.Credit:Eddie Jim

University of Melbourne Professor James McCaw, an infectious disease expert and member of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which advises the national cabinet, said this was not supported by the data he had seen.

“There is no epidemiological evidence that this virus spreads faster,” he said. “There is no clear reason to think this virus is spreading in different ways.

“We need to be very cautious. We are on an absolute knife-edge in Victoria about whether we bring this under control rapidly or it develops further. But I don’t think it is helpful to seed alarmist or doomsday-type thoughts into the community.”

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, who has described the virus strain at large in Melbourne as an “absolute beast” that was spreading “in settings and circumstances we’ve never seen before”, toned down his language yesterday, as acting Premier James Merlino detailed the state’s next stage of COVID-19 restrictions.

While Melbourne’s lockdown will continue for another week, restrictions are expected to be eased in regional Victoria from tomorrow. In Greater Melbourne, the five-kilometre movement radius will be extended to 10 kilometres and supermarket shoppers will need to check in with a QR code.

Professor Sutton’s advice to the government about the highly infectious nature of the virus and novel forms of transmission being detected by contact tracers was critical to the changes announced yesterday.

Read more here.

Good morning

Good morning, and welcome to our free, rolling coverage of the coronavirus crisis once again engulfing Victoria.

Yesterday, the state government extended the seven-day lockdown for metropolitan Melbourne. Assuming there are no new cases outside the capital, regional Victorians will win some freedoms back from midnight tonight, including leaving their homes whenever they like.

People in metropolitan Melbourne will still only be allowed to leave home for the same five reasons: shopping for groceries, work/study, exercise, caring responsibilities and to get vaccinated. But Year 11 and 12 students will return to face-to-face learning and the 5km radius will be extended to 10km

As always, please keep an eye on the growing list of exposure sites on the Victorian coronavirus website, and if you have any symptoms – a fever, a sore throat, a cough – you can find a list of testing sites here.

We’ll be here all day.

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