Scary new timeline emerges for virus cluster in Melbourne's 'epicentre'

·3-min read

New details have emerged suggesting the first case of coronavirus at a Melbourne meat processing facility at the epicentre of a growing cluster of coronavirus cases in Victoria was recorded more than a month ago.

The first case at the abattoir was identified on April 2, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, but because the worker had not been on site while infectious, Cedar Meats was not considered an exposure site.

The second case linked to the workplace was diagnosed on April 24, followed by a third case about 24 hours later of a person who had been a patient at Sunshine Hospital for unrelated reasons prior to diagnosis or displaying symptoms.

The department says those two cases were the first indication of a possible cluster and the source of infection is still under investigation.

It wasn't until April 29 that the department took additional actions, including testing all staff.

Pictured is a Cedar Meats sign at the meat processing facility in Brooklyn, in Melbourne's west.
Cedar Meats in Melbourne's west is the epicentre of Victoria's growing coronavirus cluster. Source: AAP

After a few days with low rates of new infections in Victoria, 49 cases have now been linked to the outbreak at the Cedar Meats facility in Brooklyn in the city’s west.

Four more Cedar Meats staff were confirmed to have the potentially-deadly illness on Wednesday morning.

They make up some of the 17 new cases in Victoria bringing total cases in the state to 1440.

Meatworks cluster source a mystery

Victorian Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton says authorities may struggle to determine the original source of the cluster at the Cedar Meats abattoir in Brooklyn.

But he's confident it has not stemmed from the worker who tested positive for the virus early in April.

"I have been told that that early case wasn't part of the cluster - wasn't on site," Professor Sutton told 3AW on Wednesday.

Prof Sutton said while those early cases linked to the cluster are known, it's not clear exactly how the outbreak emerged.

"People can have really mild symptoms and we'll really struggle to understand who introduced it and when, but somebody's brought it into the facility," he said.

Premier Daniel Andrews is set to maintain all social distancing restrictions until at least May 11 when the current state of emergency ends.

The national cabinet will meet on Friday to discuss national guidelines to relax these measures.

To obtain more detailed information about whether Victoria should follow other states and lift some of these restrictions, the government is aiming to achieve 100,000 tests in two weeks. Another 10,000 people were tested on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the state government continued unveiling financial aid that has scuttled hopes of a 2020/21 budget surplus.

Pictured is the Cedar Meats Australia meat processing facility in Melbourne where a coronavirus outbreak has occurred.
The first employee at Cedar Meats contracted coronavirus more than a month ago. Source: AAP

"Essentially, the state will be running deficit positions. I don't think there's much surprise about that," Treasurer Tim Pallas said on Tuesday.

On a day when he was meant to deliver Victoria's now-delayed budget, Mr Pallas also revealed an extra $491 million in virus relief measures.

Businesses participating in the federal government's JobKeeper scheme will be exempt from payroll tax, at a cost of about $225 million to the state.

They also won't have to pay WorkCover premiums on payments to their employees if their staff are currently stood down, costing the state about $200 million.

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