Victoria’s lockdown was extended over two infections from ‘fleeting’ stranger-to-stranger contacts that turned out to be false positives.
The state’s snap seven-day lockdown was pushed out to June 10 in Melbourne, with case numbers reaching 63 on Thursday.
According to health officials, the longer lockdown was partly based on positive test results of two people who had only passing contact with infected cases.
Such easy transmission prompted Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton to dub it an ‘absolute beast’ that was spreading ‘in settings and circumstances we’ve never seen before’ – justifying a harder response.
But on Thursday, the Health Department said the pair were actually virus-free and their positive test results were false positives.
This routine but critical finding was a huge broadside to the ‘beast’ variant theory and prompted fresh calls for state bosses to end the lockdown early.
Pictured: Political commentator Peta Credlin, who blasted the Victorian government for being ‘incompetent’ on Thursday
On Sky News that evening, political pundit Peta Credlin – who served as former prime minister Tony Abbott’s chief of staff – unloaded on the state government.
She fired seething shots at Dan Andrews’ government for asking the federal government to help finance a rescue package for newly-jobless residents.
Victorians in Covid hotspots can claim $500 a week from Centrelink if they are unable to work due to lockdown.
Credlin insisted Australians in other states should not pay for Victoria’s ‘incompetence’ in being unable to manage the virus and needing a fourth lockdown.
‘Surely the government that orders the lockdown must pay for it,’ she said.
‘It’s hard to begrudge people who can’t work getting some help, but I’m nonetheless frustrated to see the commonwealth, yet again, bail out and make excuses for the most destructive and incompetent state government in Australia’s history.’
She went on to explain that the federal government gave $46 billion to Victorians, which is three times more than the Andrews Government did.
Pictured: Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Peta Credlin said the state government was the most ‘incompetent in Australia’s history’
Pictured: Australians lining up for Centrelink payments in Melbourne during lockdown
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he did not know how much the scheme would cost, but if 100,000 people signed up that will amount to $50 million a week.
‘There are around half a million casual workers – the people most likely to qualify for the payment – in the Melbourne metropolitan area,’ he said.
The money will be transferred into workers’ bank accounts in line with the disaster payment scheme which applies during fires and floods – something Credlin said was ‘fitting, because the Victorian government is a disaster’.
‘I feel for taxpayers and the rest of the country forced to again bail out a state as a four-lockdown basket case. It doesn’t seem to be learning from it’s mistakes – lurching from one crisis to the next that no amount of spin can cover up,’ she said.
‘Let there be no doubt this lockdown, first for a week and now for a fortnight, is only happening because Victoria’s tracing system can’t cope even with just a handful of new cases per day.’
After the false positives were confirmed, Victoria’s department of health said positive test results are revisited once initial isolation measures for the person and their close contacts have been established.
‘Cases continue to be reviewed as further information comes to hand,’ health officials said.
Pictured: Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino speaks to the media at a press conference on June 3
Pictured: People walking through an inner-city park in Melbourne on June 3
‘Once contacts are isolated and public health measures are in place, those cases can be re-evaluated, their test results can be re-run and further investigations can be conducted.’
Experts rubbished the government’s dire warnings of a super-strain that was far more infectious than other variants.
‘What we’re seeing now clearly is people who are, they’re brushing past each other in a small shop, they’re going around a display home, they’re looking at phones in a Telstra shop,’ Covid-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said on Tuesday.
‘This is, relatively speaking, relatively fleeting contact. They don’t know each other’s names. And that’s very different to where we’ve been before.’
This turned out to not be true, and even before the false positives debunked it, experts said there was no evidence to support it.
‘There is no epidemiological evidence that this virus spreads faster. There is no clear reason to think this virus is spreading in different ways,’ University of Melbourne Professor James McCaw said.
The pair were a woman who visited a display home in Mickleham, in Melbourne’s north-west, and a man who dined at the Brighton Beach Hotel.
Close contacts of the two cases and exposure sites linked only with them will be released from quarantine measures – including every exposure site in Anglesea.
However, the Health Department warned people, venues, and business affected by the reclassification of the two cases must wait for individual clearance from them or a Local Public Health Unit before dropping isolation precautions.
The Metricon site and the Brighton Beach Hotel are to remain on the government’s list of exposure sites because they are linked to other cases.
The state recorded three new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, all of them primary close contacts of existing cases.
The results were detected among 57,519 test results received in the 24 hours to Thursday morning, a record for the state.
Two cases in Victoria’s latest Covid cluster declared false positives (pictured: testing staff in full PPE at the Deer Park testing facility in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on June 1, 2021)
More than 50,000 people received a Covid-19 vaccine dose, including 23,921 administered at state-run vaccination hubs, which was also a record.
Of those, 6,226 were workers in the aged care, healthcare, or disability care sectors.
The latest infections include an 89-year-old Arcare Maidstone aged care resident, who was transferred to hospital on Wednesday.
Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said he would not be surprised if the outbreak at the facility, in Melbourne’s northwest, grew from the current five cases.
Under eased restrictions for regional Victoria, there will be no limit on how far people can travel and outdoor gatherings of up to 10 will be allowed.
Masks will remain compulsory indoors and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible.
Schools, retail and hospitality will also be able to reopen.
Health workers conduct COVID-19 testing at the Montague Street centre in South Melbourne, Friday May 28, 2021
Last year’s so-called ‘ring of steel’ to enforce the differing restrictions between Melbourne and regional Victoria isn’t coming back, with roving police patrols to be used instead.
Regional businesses will have to check the IDs of customers to ensure they’re not from Melbourne.
Service Victoria QR code check-ins will become mandatory statewide in retail settings such as supermarkets, with businesses required to manually log the visits of people who do not have mobile phones.
Melbourne’s lockdown, meanwhile, is being extended until 11.59pm on June 10 as health authorities scramble to stamp out what they say is a more infectious variant of the virus.
However, year 11 and 12 students will be able to return to classrooms, and some outdoor work such as landscaping and painting can resume from Friday.
Residents will also be able to travel up to 10km from their residence to shop and exercise.
Prof Cheng said he was confident the seven-day extension would be ‘enough’ to contain the outbreak.
It’s expected Melbourne will then move to a similar set of restrictions to that of regional Victoria, with people unable to travel over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a ‘temporary Covid disaster payment’ for stood-down Victorian workers aged over 17.
COVID-EXPOSED VENUES ANNOUNCED OVERNIGHT
Anyone who has visited the following exposure sites must immediately isolate, get a Covid test and quarantine for 14 days:
Carlton North: Joeys Scouts Carlton, May 26, between 6.00pm-7.30pm
Travancore: Elite Swimming Ascot Vale, May 25, between 5.15pm-6.00pm
Docklands: Costco Wholesale Docklands, May 31, between 3.30pm-4.20pm
Docklands: Coles Spencer Street Outlet, May 30, between 12.00pm-1.00pm
Anglesea: Anglesea Golf Club – Bistro, Mau 25, between 6.00pm-7.30pm
Anyone who has visited the following exposure sites during times listed should urgently get a test and isolate until they receive a negative result:
Brunswick: Faculty of Music, May 27, between 4.00pm-5.30pm
West Melbourne: Flagstaff Gardens, May 28, between 2.30pm-4.00pm
Epping: Coles Epping Aurora Village, May 25, between 9.05pm-10.00pm
Anglesea: Anglesea Transfer Station, May 25, between 9.20am-9.35am
Anglesea: IGA, Shop 5-8, 87-89 Great Ocean Rd
-May 25, between 10.30am-11.15am
-May 27, between 10.15am – 11.00am
Anglesea: Oaks Bakery, May 27, between 10.30am-11.00am
Williamstown: Post Office, May 28, between 3.20pm – 4.10pm
For a full list of exposure sites, click here
The Brighton Beach Hotel (pictured) is to remain on the exposure list because there are other cases linked to the venue
Professor Allen Cheng speaks at a press conference held at midday in Melbourne on the 7th day the state wide lockdown