'Will see big numbers': Melbourne's 'hot zones' continue to grow

Cases of coronavirus in Melbourne are expected to continue growing as the state buckles down on testing people in hot spot zones and residents locked down in public housing towers.

Employees at a popular Melbourne market were two of the 108 new cases of coronavirus revealed in Victoria on Saturday, with an additional 74 new cases announced Sunday.

The two workers are vendors from the Preston Market, north of the city, and are understood to have not had close contact with customers while infectious.

The Victorian Department of Health said the situation served as “a timely reminder to Victorians to maintain physical distance while in retail and shopping environments”.

They were among a host of cases not linked to existing outbreaks, including three cases in emergency department workers at Northern Hospital, Epping, and a teacher at Debney Meadows Primary School.

The Preston Market in Melbourne. Source: Facebook/Preston Market
Two vendors at the popular Preston Market in Melbourne contracted COVID-19. Source: Facebook/Preston Market

Another concerning case is a contracted healthcare worker undertaking duties at the Park Royal Hotel who is believed to have worked shifts while infectious.

The health department said the source was “currently unknown and all avenues of transmission will be investigated”.

The contact tracing process is underway, with all appropriate public health actions being implemented, including cleaning, quarantine and testing.

Three of the new cases have been linked to freshly established outbreaks, with two of those at the Optus head office where there is now a total of five cases.

The other was detected at Ascot Vale Primary School - a known close contact of an existing case - taking the total cases to two.

Fourteen of the new cases in Victoria on Saturday were linked to existing outbreaks, while 25 were identified through routine testing and 69 cases are under investigation.

A consistent surge in cases for the state saw another two postcodes, 3031 and 3051, added to the existing 10 subject to lockdown orders for at least the remainder of the month.

Three healthcare workers in the Northern Hospital, Epping, have contracted coronavirus. Source: Google Maps
Three healthcare workers in the Northern Hospital, Epping, have contracted coronavirus. Source: Google Maps

The new “hot zone” postcodes join previously announced restricted postcodes - 3012, 3021, 3032, 3038, 3042, 3046, 3047, 3055, 3060 and 3064.

These postcodes must follow the Stay at Home directions until July 29.

Two separate outbreaks in public housing towers saw Premier Daniel Andrews announce a “hard lockdown” for more than 3000 residents effective as of Saturday afternoon.

Nine towers have been closed and residents are required to stay in their homes at all times - unlike people in regular lockdown suburbs, they can not leave for any reason.

The hard lockdown will be enforced for at least five days to ensure every resident can be tested, with the strict rules only to be lifted if the method proves successful in curbing cases.

‘People will die’

The premier on Sunday issued a message to the thousands of people bound by the hard lockdown, assuring them that the measures taken were “not about punishment, they’re about protection”.

If residents did not comply with the strict directives, Mr Andrews warned “people will die”.

“It is as simple as that. These towers are being treated in a public health response sense is no different to an aged care facility. And that is exactly the right way to go given the inherent vulnerability not of every resident but of many, many residents,” he said.

In the coming days, the state was expecting to see case number surge even higher, Mr Andrews said.

“Obviously 70 odd cases is better than 100. But we are going to see some big days, big numbers in the days ahead. You can't go and test 3000 people in such a focused and concentrated way and not have numbers go up.”

Sixteen of Victoria’s new cases are connected to controlled outbreaks, with one a returned traveller in hotel quarantine, and four determined through routine testing. Fifty three are still being investigated.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the complete lockdown of nine public housing towers on Saturday. Source: AAP
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the complete lockdown of nine public housing towers on Saturday. Source: AAP

Drug and alcohol, mental health and medical services will be available to residents, along with delivery of basic goods like nappies, food and other essential items.

Mr Andrews addressed concern for residents who did not get the opportunity to do their weekly shopping before the hard lockdown was enforced, after some likened conditions to a prison.

“We will get to every single person what they need. That can’t be done instantly. It does take time. We are all working as hard as we can to protect those residents, to support those residents, and to protect public health more broadly,” he told reporters.

Mr Andrews said people in the towers who refused to be tested for COVID-19 would be treated as though they have the virus, and will be required to isolate for longer.

“In terms of anyone who refuses to be tested in an environment like this, and I think there will be a very small message to those residents is consent to the test, agree to the test.

“This is about protection for you, your loved ones and then by extension, it is about protecting the entire state. We don't take these decisions lightly.”

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