Scott Morrison announces COVID payment for lockdown-affected victims; regional area restrictions to ease3rd June 2021
“[Without income support], I would have had to reach out to friends and family for support, or really set myself back financially for the rest of the year,” Mx O’Connor said.
“I don’t have dependents and it’s just me that I’m responsible for, so for me I’ll be OK … but I imagine if you’ve got a family it will be difficult.
“It would be pretty cold [by governments] not to offer any financial support to people.”
The payments will be available to those in hotspots declared by federal Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, rather than by state officers, when lockdowns have lasted more than seven days.
The payments will provide up to $500 a week for people who had been working more than 20 hours, $325 for workers who worked fewer than 20 hours a week and will be restricted to those who have less than $10,000 in liquid assets.
Mr Morrison said any support in the first week of a lockdown would be the responsibility of state governments.
“It is indeed the case that the greater Melbourne metropolitan area is a Commonwealth hotspot and is intended to be so over the next seven days for the extended period that is being announced by the [acting] Victorian Premier,” Mr Morrison said.
The Victorian government is demanding certainty from the Morrison government and said states should be responsible for handling business support, while income support is the responsibility of the Commonwealth.
Small businesses eligible for the state government’s $5000 Business Costs Assistance Program can apply here, while licensed venues can apply for $7000 here.
A state government spokeswoman said the Business Victoria website received 10,000 hits a minute after the grants went live about 4.30pm. Businesses have three weeks to apply for the grants.
Stranger-to-stranger transmission cases reclassified as “false positives”
Victoria recorded three new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, all close primary contacts of existing cases and two cases were reclassified as false positives. Health authorities said the state had started running short of Pfizer vaccine.
The absence of new mystery cases clears the way for the easing of restrictions across regional Victoria from 11.59pm on Thursday night.
On Thursday evening, Victorian authorities announced that two cases of “stranger-to-stranger transmission” – the existence of which had been used to build the case for the extended lockdown – were being reclassified as false positives.
The two cases involved a woman who was thought to have acquired the virus at a Metricon display homes exposure site at Mickleham, and a man who was thought to have contracted the virus at the Brighton Beach Hotel.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday morning, acting Premier James Merlino said all three cases were primary close contacts who had already been identified and that the easing of restrictions in regional areas of the state would go ahead as planned, allowing Victorians outside metropolitan Melbourne to leave their homes for any reason and to travel any distance.
People in metropolitan Melbourne will still only be allowed to leave home for five reasons: food and supplies, caregiving, exercise, work and education for allowed categories, or to get a vaccine.
“That is great news for regional Victoria,” Mr Merlino said.
“That means lifting the stay-at-home and travel restrictions. All year levels and students will return to face-to-face schooling. Public gatherings, catching up at a public place like a park or a beach, will be increased to 10 people.”
Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said supply of the Pfizer vaccine was not keeping up with demand since vaccinations were opened up to the 40-49 age bracket.
“In general, there is a constrained supply of Pfizer vaccines,” he said. “If we had more, then we would be able to give more.
“There is a small stockpile, and we are using those at the moment. I could not give you the exact figures, but clearly there has been a surge in demand for vaccines and there is not the supply to be able to meet that at the moment,” Professor Cheng said.
“We are not across the exact numbers, but we do get some forward predictions on what and when the supply will come. That is dependent on the supply coming in from overseas as well, but we do get a forward prediction and that we try and put stock aside to make sure that there is enough for second doses and so on.
“At this … stage, we are comfortable with the prioritisation that we have. That is a process to consider – special groups – but in general, there is a balance between trying to have special groups vaccinated first and then just trying to get as many eligible people vaccinated in as possible to make it simple.”
Professor Cheng said there had so far been no transmission at North Melbourne Primary School, after it was closed on Wednesday due to a positive case.
“They have not transmitted there but there are close contacts at North Melbourne Primary. That is 243 level-one contacts and 90 level-two contacts identified among staff and students there. There is testing under way and there is a designated testing lane at the Melbourne Showgrounds for that group.”
Professor Cheng said he was pleased with the strong testing response in Bendigo after virus fragments were detected in the wastewater there.
“Pleasingly, the repeat testing from all the Bendigo catchments wastewater samples are negative, but we still encourage people who are in the Bendigo area but even the mildest of symptoms to come forward for testing,” he said.
A record 141,259 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered nationwide on Wednesday, as Victoria administered more than 50,000 doses for the second day in a row. Health authorities also processed a record 57,519 COVID-19 tests in the 24 hours to midnight.
Thursday’s three new cases took the total number of infections linked to the outbreak to 63, with one of the cases, an aged care resident at Arcare Maidstone Aged Care, already revealed on Wednesday. Another was the child of an existing case and the third was a staff member at the Port Melbourne workplace cluster that crosses over with the greater City of Whittlesea outbreak.
Financial assistance and a quarantine decision
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison said applications for the “temporary COVID disaster payment” would open on Tuesday.
The support payments come with some caveats, however: It only applies to people who are at least 17 years old, and they have to be Australian citizens, residents or visa holders with a right to work here. Recipients must declare that they have lost income, live or work in a declared federal hotspot, and while they do not have to have used up all their annual leave, they must have “insufficient other entitlements” such as pandemic sick leave.
A week into Victoria’s lockdown and with Melbourne facing at least another week of tight restrictions, Mr Frydenberg also said Avalon was in the box seat as preferred quarantine site.
“Avalon does have some very positive characteristics to it, obliviously being near an airport and that’s relevant in this case,” Mr Frydenberg said on 3AW radio.
He did not confirm the selection outright but said a decision was “imminent”.
A more transmissible strain?
The new cases come amid a debate over the virulence of the latest outbreak. Australia’s peak pandemic advisory group has found that the COVID-19 strain at the centre of the outbreak is not moving faster than other variants of the virus or spreading in new, unexpected ways.
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 on Wednesday, as acting Premier James Merlino detailed the state’s next stage of COVID-19 restrictions.
Professor Cheng says the strain responsible for the current outbreak is more infectious than last year’s strain.
“I would say that it’s more infectious, probably about 50 per cent more infectious than the strain that we had last year,” he said. “It is more infectious in the sense that more people get infected for every case, so I think that’s accurate to say that.”
The state government justified Wednesday’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.
University of Melbourne Professor James McCaw, an infectious disease expert and member of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which advises the national cabinet, supported the decision to extend lockdown but said there was no evidence that this virus was moving quicker than previous variants.
“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.”
Speaking to Hamish Macdonald on RN Breakfast, Professor Catherine Bennett from Deakin University said the start of any outbreak would always be challenging, but as data has been gathered about transmission familiar patterns were emerging in this spread.
“I think when you’re in the thick of it, particularly if you’re looking at outbreaks that have started weeks ago when you first discover it, there is a tendency to think that the virus is moving faster than you’re anticipating,” Professor Bennett said.
“It can be quite overwhelming, so we’ve, we’ve heard a little bit of that over the last few days and I think that was a bit checked yesterday by the Chief Health Officer.”
While Professor Bennett was optimistic the outbreak would be controlled, the Australian Medical Association’s new Victorian president has said Australia’s opportunity to get ahead of COVID-19 has been squandered.
Dr Roderick 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 Victoria’s outbreak and concerns over a health system under immense strain.
“You have to be honest and say yes, the golden window is gone,” Dr McRae said. “But we are at silver, and let’s maximise what we can do.”
With Nick Bonyhady, Chip Le Grand, Liam Mannix, Aisha Dow
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