Covid Victoria: St Kilda East engagement party couple face punishment

Australians aged 16 to 39 will be able to access the Pfizer vaccine from August 30 as Melbourne and Sydney’s Covid crises continue to worsen.

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Australians aged 16 to 39 will be able to access the Pfizer vaccine from August 30.

Scott Morrison announced the long-awaited expansion of the rollout on Thursday afternoon.

Bookings are not yet available for people in this age group, with the Prime Minister saying further details on appointments would be made available next week.

All adults can currently access the AstraZeneca vaccine through GPs, pharmacies and state-run hubs.

More to come.

ENGAGEMENT PARTY COUPLE FACE PUNISHMENT

The organisers of an illegal engagement party in Melbourne’s southeast, have been hit with hefty fines by police after it was revealed a Covid-positive person attended the event.

The Caulfield North event, which had 69 guests, received widespread public attention last week after footage of the party was leaked.

Victoria Police chief commissioner Shane Patton said most of the guests would receive fines worth $5500 and revealed four people had already been fined.

“Two of those have been to the parents of the bride-to-be and two of those have been to the engaged couple as well,” Mr Patton said.

“The investigation is still ongoing, it’s obviously been hampered to a degree by the fact that they’re in isolation.”

The event caused public uproar in both the Jewish and wider Melbourne community after footage was leaked and went viral last week.

In the clip, guests are seen laughing at a joke made by the groom-to-be about the event being held in breach Melbourne’s sixth lockdown.

“Clearly this is legal, this is a group-therapy session, that’s why my father is here,” he told the room full of massless attendees.

One guest quipped, “he’s a mental health clinician”, while another said “the doctors here” as laughter erupted in the room.

While only four people from the event have been fined so far, it’s expected all attendees will receive infringements, which will amount to a whopping $350,000 in fines.

Mr Patton said the attendees, who were all in isolation, had been co-operating with authorities.

PREMIER’S GRIM PREDICTION AS REASON FOR SPIKE REVEALED

Daniel Andrews has revealed a large portion of Thursday’s 57 new cases have been linked to the Al-Taqwa outbreak.

The premier also warned Victoria could face similar case numbers in coming days, as day 13 cases for other outbreaks begin to emerge.

It comes after Victoria recorded a sharp spike in Covid cases, with 57 new cases overnight — the highest daily increase in nearly a year.

The new infections include three mystery cases, while 13 were not in isolation for their entire infectious period.

It’s the biggest spike since 76 infections emerged on September 9 last year.

The state now has 296 active cases, with three Victorians in intensive care and one on a ventilator.

Of the 529 cases in Victoria since July 12, 80 people were eligible to be vaccinated but hadn’t been, 45 had received one dose, and 23 (just above 5 per cent) were fully vaccinated.

None of the 14 cases currently in hospital are vaccinated — nine were eligible but five were not.

However, Mr Andrews said the fact that just 13 of the most recent cases had been out in the community while infectious was proof the system was working.

“I know 57 (cases) seems a very big number but when the vast majority of those have been in isolation for their infectious period, that’s exactly what we want, that’s the system working exactly as it should work,” he said.

Addressing controversy about the closure of Melbourne’s playgrounds, Mr Andrews said “we have seen some evidence of outdoor transmission”.

“We’re about trying to stop any more transmission. We’re about trying to stop any more kids getting this.”

Mr Andrews said there were several reasons why the NSW vaccine drive was ahead of Victoria’s.

“Firstly they might have received more supply to than us. So that would be part of it.

“The other point is we know outbreaks drive people’s take up when they’re in the sort of situation they’re in. That is a prompt and you do see people come forward in greater numbers to get vaccinated.”

Mr Andrews said Victoria would “wait and see” where vaccination rates were at before potentially easing rules for vaccinated people. Meanwhile, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said NSW restrictions could be eased for vaccinated people by the end of the month.

“She’s not talking about opening up and ending a lockdown, she’s talking about perhaps some changes to the rules. I don’t know what that looks like from her point of view but I know it had been interpreted that all the rules would come off and be open at 50 per cent.

“I don’t think she’s talking about that at all. I think she’s talking about potentially easing rules.”

BUSINESSES TO GET MORE SUPPORT

An additional $807m worth of support will be rolled out to small and medium businesses suffering from the extended Covid-19 lockdown.

Josh Frydenberg announced the funding under a partnership with the Victorian government on Thursday.

“Payments between $2800 to $20,000 will be made to businesses across the hospitality sector, the recreation sector, tourism sector, and other affected sectors in that state,” the federal Treasurer said.

“This is a very difficult time for our country. This is a very challenging time for our economy.”

CONCERNS OVER VIRUS IN WASTEWATER

Acting chief health officer Professor Ben Cowie said there had been three repeat wastewater detections in Shepparton between August 9 and 16 and locals are being urged to get tested.

In Melbourne’s west, there have been repeat detections in Ardeer, and new detections in Albion, Braybrook, St Albans, Sunshine, Tottenham.

Professor Cowie said the biggest concern was repeated detections in an industrial zone in Sunshine West.

That period of concern is listed as between August 8 and 17.

Professor Cowie urged anyone in that industrial area to immediately get tested, regardless of whether they had symptoms.

He said wastewater detections provided an early insight into potentially new cases.

“Particularly with the Delta variant, an extra day’s warning is really precious,” he said.

New drive-through vaccination clinics will soon open in Broadmeadows, Springvale and Werribee.

The new clinics will be located at the Former Ford Factory in Broadmeadows, at Sandown Racecourse in Springvale and the Eagle Stadium in Werribee.

It comes as Melburnians woke to their 200th day in lockdown since the pandemic began.

And the worst may continue to come, with no confirmation the city would be freed on the September 2 deadline.

Here’s how Melbourne compares to the rest of the world

APARTMENT TOWER IN LOCKDOWN

Meanwhile, residents of the Manhattan apartment tower in Melbourne’s CBD have been placed into lockdown, after a positive case was identified in their building on Wednesday.

Anyone living on Level 40 of 33 Rose Lane, near the corner of Lonsdale and Spencer streets, has been plunged into a 14-day quarantine, with the positive case most likely living on the floor.

All other residents of the tower, which has more than 50 floors, must get tested urgently and isolate until they receive a negative result.

Workers undertook a deep clean of the tower’s lobby on Thursday morning, while a health department official spoke with the building’s management.

Nurses clad in PPE were also seen taking the tower’s elevator to test residents who were required to isolate in their apartments.

A notice at the front entrance marked “URGENT” requires those in the building to “avoid high touch points” and to, where possible, stay in their apartments.

“The Owner Corporation is organising decontamination tonight,” it read.

Several residents could be seen exiting the building to meet food delivery drivers outside.

One person in the building told the Herald Sun health officials would return in the morning.

There are 641 apartments in the Manhattan tower, where the positive case is located.

The “Upper West Side” complex has a total of 2207 apartments across four towers.

Some residents left the tower to get tested, including Sean, who said communication from health authorities “could have been better”.

“I saw a notice in the elevator yesterday at lunchtime but everyone is on their phones … it’s easy to miss,” he said.

“They could’ve done a much better job, like setting up a barrier at the entrance or texting us.”

NSW HITS HORROR NEW CASE HIGH

NSW has reported another record day of Covid cases with 681 people diagnosed with the virus and another death.

The latest fatality was a man aged in his 80s who died at St George Hospital. He had received one vaccine dose and was also being treated for underlying health conditions.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday that 5.5 million jabs have now been delivered across NSW with 53 per cent of the population vaccinated with one dose and 28 per cent fully vaccinated.

“When we get to six million jabs, those that are vaccinated will have the opportunity to do something that they can’t do now,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Read the full story here

SEX WORKER’S MOVEMENTS TRACED

Health authorities are investigating the movements of a homeless sex worker, who is among a string of mystery cases centred around the St Kilda area.

The woman, who is now safely quarantined, is understood to have tested positive after presenting to an emergency department alongside an acquaintance, who is also homeless.

It has prompted fears that the virus has been circulating through Melbourne’s homeless community, with hospitals put on high alert.

On Wednesday evening the Herald Sun revealed at least 40 new locally acquired infections were going to be recorded on Thursday.

The new threat comes as Melburnians wake to their 200th day in lockdown since the pandemic began, with no confirmation from authorities that the city would be freed on September 2.

“It’s too early to say,” Health Minister Martin Foley said, when asked if the current strategy was working. “We’re not where we want to be.”

Investigations have begun into who the woman came into contact with, as authorities call on anyone who has employed a sex worker in St Kilda to immediately front for testing.

The St Kilda cluster has grown to 15 cases across Melbourne’s inner southeast and is made up of the sex worker, accountants, architects, members of the Orthodox Jewish community and a teenage pizza shop employee.

Covid-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said while all the cases had been genomically linked, geography was the only other factor that linked them.

“It is a very broad and disparate range of people,” Mr Weimar said. “We are exceptionally concerned about what we don’t yet know in that area. There are clearly a number of chains of transmissions that we don’t yet have full pictures of.”

Meanwhile, authorities are calling for anyone who lives or works in the Bayside, City of Port Phillip and City of Glen Eira local government areas to get tested regardless of symptoms.

Amid fears not enough people were getting tested, the state government launched a campaign – “Only a test can tell” – to promote the importance of getting tested.

Data shows that 18 months into the pandemic, fewer than half of people with cold and flu symptoms get tested.

Mr Foley said it was important that Victorians began to treat their symptoms differently.

“To not ignore them or shrug them off as nothing. Whether it’s a headache or a slight sniffle, you may not think it’s coronavirus, but only a test can tell,” Mr Foley said.

Victoria recorded fewer than 40,000 tests, compared to more than 100,000 in NSW on Wednesday.

It’s feared people experiencing homelessness were at greater risk, with Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien using the fresh scare to call for rapid antigen testing to be rolled out.

As of August 11, there were 1167 people in emergency hotel accommodation in Victoria.

“If you had rapid testing rolled out, easily accessible, it’d be much easier to get homeless people and marginalised people tested. It’s time for Daniel Andrews to stop being arrogant and take up our plan,” Mr O’Brien said.

NSW reported 633 locally acquired cases on Wednesday, its worst day on record, with two more deaths.

ANTI-LOCKDOWN PROTEST SPARKS FEARS

Police have put anti-lockdown protesters on notice after a group announced a plan to gather illegally in the CBD this weekend, in direct defiance of health orders.

The “Melbourne Freedom Rally” protest is scheduled for noon on Saturday at the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke streets and has attracted interest from the city’s anti-lockdown and anti-vaxxer community.

“We will rise for peace, freedom and human rights,” the protest advert says. “Courage is contagious. Coercion is not consent.”

The group has become notorious for defying health orders by gathering to protest against lockdowns.

Victoria Police said they would be out in force.

“There will be a highly visible police presence in the Melbourne CBD, on the roads and across the public transport network to ensure the community is complying with the chief health officer’s directions,” Sergeant Megan Stefanec said.

“Those who choose to … put the health and safety of all Victorians in jeopardy can expect to be held accountable.”

COPS WON’T FINE KIDS AT PLAYGROUNDS

Senior police have­ ­confirmed officers will not slap $5000 fines on Melbourne children caught using playgrounds during the lockdown.

After the police union said its members were unhappy at being told to patrol swings and slides, police command pledged to use discretion when it came to ­enforcing lockdown laws at such sites.

Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent said: “We have a different approach to children than we do to adults.

“It’s a $5452 fine for breaching the gathering (rule) that’s contained in the chief health officer’s directions. We’re not going to get a child to pay a fine for that amount.”

The tougher rules announced this week, including playground closures, prompted the response from the state’s police union, which warned its members had concerns with enforcing that.

But on Wednesday, Mr ­Nugent said: “Our members haven’t been tasked to police playgrounds at all.

“What we are asking our police to do is ensure the community complies with the ­directions that are put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Mr Nugent said police would issue fines “when there’s a blatant breach, a deliberate breach”, but with playgrounds closed, and mostly taped off, it was “highly unlikely” any would be dished out.

“If we see deliberate and blatant breaches by a group of youths, for example, we will engage with the youths and work out what’s the best approach,” he said.

A day earlier, asked if his ­officers would be ­patrolling swings and slides, Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said any public space would be ­targeted.

“We will be visiting those areas, unfortunately it is necessary,” he said. “We will be making sure that people adhere to the guidelines.”

A Victoria Police spokeswoman on Wednesday said there had been no change to the enforcement approach and members wouldn’t be asked to patrol one specific area.

“Instead, police are being tasked to patrol all open places where people typically gather, including parks, major shopping strips, beaches and, of course, playgrounds,” she said.

It came as Covid commander Jeroen Weimar said there was no update on an investigation into whether there had been recent transmission at a Melbourne playground.

But he said two Melbourne playgrounds were listed as exposure sites and there were four children, across two different groups, who appeared to have picked up the virus while they had spent time outdoors.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute group leader Professor Fiona Russell, who led a study of Covid-19 school closures last year, said Melbourne’s playground shutdown needed to be reconsidered. “It’s important that children can get out and play and interact with other children,” she said.

PUBLIC SERVANT JABS NOT MANDATORY

Health Minister Martin Foley has not committed to mandating the Covid vaccine for public servants and all frontline health workers, but did not rule it out if rates were not high enough.

“We’ve already got very high levels of vaccinations in our frontline healthcare workers but we’ll work through those process of making sure all our workforce is at the highest level of vaccination we could possibly got them,” he said. “We are confident that particularly our own workforce will see the benefits of being of vaccinated. But we don’t rule out taking any measures that are needed to get us to that 80 and higher per cent.”

Mr Foley said the government was still determining whether extra doses of the vaccine would be rolled out to specific workforces.

IVY’S A POSTER GIRL FOR VACCINE

Many children may be scared of needles, but Ivy Old bounded out of bed full of excitement and barely able to wait for her Covid vaccination on Wednesday.

Living with a weakened immune system, the chance of gaining extra protection against Covid-19 meant the world to the Seddon 12-year old and her family.

Now, with her first Pfizer jab out of the way, Ivy and her parents Jackie and Wes Old are desperately hoping others can follow her example to protect those who either cannot be vaccinated, or gain less protection from them than the wider community.

“If you are not going to do it for yourself, she is a really good reason why,” Mr Old said. “We need the community to be vaccinated to protect people like Ivy.

“Where we might be sick for a couple of days, Ivy would be sick for a month.

“For 18 months we have been worried that if somebody like Ivy gets coronavirus it could very well kill her.”

Born with a chromosomal variation similar to Down syndrome Ivy, like many other vulnerable children, faces a much greater risk from Covid-19.

When it was announced the Pfizer vaccine was being opened up for children aged 12-15 with specific medical conditions Ivy’s parents immediately booked her in for a jab at her GP clinic.

Having built up excitement in the days leading up to the appointment, Ivy was so excited afterwards she refused to take off her bandaid for the next 24 hours so she could proudly spread the word about the importance of the vaccine.

NZ PM LEAVES ‘NO STONE UNTURNED’

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to leave “no stone unturned” in finding the source of the Covid-19 outbreak which has plunged her country into lockdown, after genomic sequencing confirmed it was related to NSW’s breakout.

The comments come despite there still being no indications of how patient zero of the country’s current spate of cases, a 58-year-old Auckland man, contracted the Delta variant of the virus from Sydney.

The NZ PM announced on Wednesday seven cases were now associated with the Auckland outbreak, which triggered a strict countrywide lockdown lasting at least three days.

She said investigators would leave “no stone unturned in identifying what is a case that at some point originated from Australia” and flagged examinations of recent flights from Australia to see if there had been a possible quarantine breach.

She also watered down concerns that unknown cases were in the community before the 58-year-old man was identified, and ruled out any link with Australia’s national rugby union team the Wallabies, who have been in NZ for a fortnight.

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