State blasted over Woolworths blunder before Covid outbreak

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The Victorian government has been blasted over a Woolworths exposure site blunder before a Covid outbreak emerged in Melbourne's northern suburbs.

Five people have been linked to the outbreak in Whittlesea, which emerged weeks after a Wollert man tested positive for coronavirus.

Health authorities are yet to determine whether the outbreak is linked to the Wollert man, but Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien slammed the government for listing the wrong Woolworths supermarket as an exposure site earlier this month.

The Victorian health department admitted last week it warned people of potential Covid exposure at Woolworths in Epping a fortnight ago after the Wollert man tested positive. 

A Google street view of Woolworths Epping North.
Woolworths in Epping North was listed as an exposure site after the Victorian government originally got it wrong. Source: Google Maps

However the advice was corrected on Friday after it was discovered the man from Wollert had actually shopped at Woolworths in Epping North, three kilometres away.

Health Minister Martin Foley told the ABC electronic supermarket receipts from Epping North Woolworths said Epping Woolworths. 

"Given that Epping Woolworths is right across the road from another established exposure site, the conclusion was drawn from the public health team that it was in fact Epping Woolworths," he said last week.

"Further investigations have found it was in fact Epping North Woolworths."

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton also told reporters on Tuesday information on a banking app led to identifying the wrong supermarket. 

"Now that we understand that a banking app can provide the wrong information on a potential site we will use other mechanisms to absolutely lock in exposure sites," he said.

Government accused of 'making basic errors'

Mr O'Brien said on Tuesday the public was nervous after the government blundered on the supermarket exposure site and said it seemed to be making "some pretty basic errors" on contact tracing.

"The last thing Victoria can afford is going back into lockdown," he said.

"There are lots of questions the government needs to answer. I do urge people not to panic."

On Monday, Mr O'Brien said officials would have to take responsibility if there was another outbreak due to the mix-up. 

"If we get another outbreak in Melbourne because the government didn't do the basics right then frankly, the health minister, and other ministers need to lose their jobs," he said. 

Link between earlier case yet to be determined

Four new cases as part of the Whittlesea outbreak – a man in his 30s, a woman in her 70s, a man in his 70s and a pre-school aged child – were announced Monday before a positive case in a man in his 60s was reported on Tuesday. 

An infected man from Monday's four cases visited the Epping North Woolworths supermarket where the Wollert man visited, however Mr Foley said he was already in quarantine.

"We do not rule out the prospect that there is a link," Health Minister Martin Foley said.

"The dates do not line up immediately so we cannot rule out if there is a missing link out there."

Mr Foley added on Tuesday the fifth case did not have an identified link to exposure sites from the Wollert case.

Professor Sutton also warned there could be other cases out there.

"It is possible there is another missing link," he told reporters.

"We do have to conduct an interview with case five today and if there is an identified crossover with an exposure site it would be reassuring but there may be other cases out there."

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