Some restrictions have begun to ease in Victoria as the state announces eight new cases.
Some restrictions have begun to ease in Victoria as the state announces eight new cases.

State's back-to-work plans shelved at last minute

Victorians who have been working from home will be banned from returning to work in a bid to keep people away from gathering in large numbers.

From Monday employers will face fines if they ask employees to end their working from home arrangements.

Until now the state government had advised Victorians to work from home if possible.

But that advice will be made an order under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act from Monday.

 

Premier Daniel Andrews said today the move was necessary to continue to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The Premier said it was not yet clear how long the work from home order would stay in place.

But he said any changes to the order would be unlikely before the end of June.

"If you have been working from home, you must keep working from home," Mr Andrews said.

"We have the power to enforce that.

"If an office that has, currently, 80 per cent of their staff working from home, decided 'we'll just ignore the chief health officer and have everybody come back Monday' then they would be in breach of the public health orders, and there are significant penalties," he said.

Mr Andrews said the move had been taken to reduce public transport usage.

He said there were fears of a second outbreak of coronavirus if the public transport system started running beyond 15 per cent capacity.

"We can't have a situation where our public transport system is running at 100 per cent capacity," he said.

"By working from home, we limit the number of people moving around, and we limit the spread of this virus.

"The majority of Victorians and employers are following the work from home advice.

"But for the small number that are not, this is about removing any shadow of doubt: if you can work from home, you must continue to do so."

- Shannon Deery

 

THREE MELBOURNE SCHOOLS AFFECTED BY CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

Students at three schools in Melbourne's northwest have been quarantined after coming in contact with another pupil who tested positive for coronavirus.

The infected student attends Keilor Downs College but are believed to have come in contact with Taylors Lakes Secondary and St Albans Secondary College pupils while infectious.

Keilor Downs College has been temporarily closed until next week with the two other affected schools remaining open and the contacted students put in isolation.

The positive case has been connected with a family cluster.

Earlier this week deputy premier James Merlino confirmed a teacher from the same school had tested positive but the test was not revealed to the community.

Prof Sutton also urged Victorians to continue working from home, saying it was too soon to get back to normal.

From Monday a government direction will order Victorians who have been working from home to continue to do so.

Keilor Downs Secondary College has been temporarily closed after a student tested positive for coronavirus
Keilor Downs Secondary College has been temporarily closed after a student tested positive for coronavirus

Mr Merlino said on Tuesday there was no obligation to reveal the positive result because the teacher had no close contacts at the school.

Prof Sutton said there was no link between the student and the teacher, but that the cases might reveal some community level of transmission in Keilor Downs.

It comes just four days after students returned to campus and the student was infectious on site on May 26, according to Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton.

Victoria recorded six more COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, with a seventh redacted due to a data issue.

Of those cases three are the result of routine testing, two have been in hotel quarantine following overseas travel and two of those are under investigation.

 

VICTORIA'S QUARANTINE BILL EXPOSED

Coronavirus state of origin showdown is looming over concerns Victoria is unfairly bearing the cost and fallout of quarantining residents from other jurisdictions.

The Herald Sun can reveal 35 residents from other states have tested positive for coronavirus while housed in Melbourne hotels since overseas travellers were forced into a 14-day quarantine on arrival.

A technicality means they are counted in Victoria's COVID-19 tally. At the same time, several states are using the mounting numbers to justify border closures focused on keeping Victorian and NSW residents out.

Adding salt to the wound, Victorian taxpayers have been slugged almost $10 million to quarantine about 4800 interstate travellers after they were funnelled into Melbourne on limited international flights.

The Herald Sun can reveal Victorian taxpayers are billed $2000 to house each returned traveller for 14 days - covering accommodation, medical checks, transport, security guards, hotel nurses and personal protective equipment.

South Australian Chief Public Health Officer Dr Nicola Spurrier. Picture: AAP
South Australian Chief Public Health Officer Dr Nicola Spurrier. Picture: AAP

 

The simmering stoush bubbled to the surface on Thursday after South Australian health authorities incorrectly blamed Victorian counterparts for ­failing to notify them of a woman with COVID-19 who was being flown from Melbourne to Adelaide for compassionate reasons.

Minutes after Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton revealed his officers had used official channels to inform Adelaide of the woman's arrival, South Australia's Chief Public Health Officer, Nicola Spurrier, was forced into an embarrassing backtrack.

"Due to an administrative oversight, we can confirm the relevant flight details involving an overseas traveller arriving in South Australia were provided to SA Health prior to their arrival," Dr Spurrier said.

She later added: "I do apologise to Victorians. The last thing I want to do is kick a Vic.

"I think we really have to acknowledge the work that Victoria and NSW have been doing. They have been providing a national service for Australians. Victoria, NSW and Queensland - there have been a large number of Australians repatriated to those jurisdictions and they have had to provide all of the support."

Prof Sutton said on Thursday he was happy to work with his South Australian counterpart to ensure they were "on the same page" in the future.

"I think we should all sit down and talk together, understand exactly what's happened, and make sure that we have got well-defined protocols where we work out how we transmit information, that it is received, that it is understood, that there are no questions about how people are transferring between jurisdictions," Prof Sutton said.

 

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton. Picture: AAP
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton. Picture: AAP

 

"There are a lot of people who still want to come back to Australia so we will need to have good mechanisms."

Prof Sutton revealed 40 per cent of the returned travellers to quarantine in Melbourne were transiting to other states.

About 12,000 returned travellers have been in hotel quarantine, with their costs met by the Andrews Government.

Department of Health figures reveal that of the 115 returned travellers to test positive while in quarantine, only 80 were Victorians.

The others included 16 from NSW, six from Queensland, six Western Australians, five South Australians, one person from the ACT and one whose state was unknown.

 

 

STORES JUGGLE SAFETY BY NUMBERS

Major shopping centres have called in security guards and protective services officers to bust up customers flouting social distancing rules.

The COVID cops are patrolling Vicinity shopping centres, including Chadstone, The Glen, Northland, Box Hill Central and Bayside.

They are asking customers to keep 1.5m away from each other when appropriate.

Any large groups congregating in communal areas will also be dispersed.

And digital heat mapping technology will automatically alert management to the busiest areas in centres in real time.

Michael Whitehead, centre manager Chadstone, said: "Throughout the day, we have security officers and team members wearing high visibility vests patrolling our centre to encourage customers to follow social distancing guidelines.

"During peak times we'll bring on additional team members.

"We have a zero tolerance approach to anti-social and disrespectful behaviour, and our security teams work with local police and Protective Services Officers to help enforce social distancing requirements. PSOs are in the centre on Saturdays, and during peak periods."

It comes as a team from security company Checkpoint Systems visited more than 200 stores at major shopping centres, and found one in five stores had staff at entry and exits to count people coming in and out. And queues were so long at some retailers that one in 10 stores were asking shoppers to return later.

 

COVID cops are patrolling Vicinity shopping centres, including Chadstone, The Glen, Northland, Box Hill Central and Bayside. Picture: Alex Coppel
COVID cops are patrolling Vicinity shopping centres, including Chadstone, The Glen, Northland, Box Hill Central and Bayside. Picture: Alex Coppel

 

The visits uncovered a mixed bag of safety measures as more businesses emerge from coronavirus shutdowns.

Checkpoint Systems managing director Mark Gentle said inconsistencies risked confusing or frustrating customers.

"The immediate concern is that the current level of inconsistencies and confusion will prolong consumer hesitation and a much slower return to worthwhile and profitable levels of business," Mr Gentle said.

"The whole of the retail industry needs to work together now to provide consumers with a consistent and inviting experience of what safe shopping can be like."

The Checkpoint Systems visits, which included dozens of Victorian stores, found 98 per cent had signs referring to the maximum number of customers allowed at one time.

Almost every store also had floor symbols indicating a 1.5m distance and 95 per cent had hand sanitisers at the cash register or store entry with one in 10 mandating its use. Fewer than 3 per cent of took customers' temperatures.

Shopping Centre Council of Australia CEO Angus Nardi said the industry was working hard to provide a safe environment.

 

Siblings Frankie, 5, Elliot, 11 and Gabe, 8, love their toy library toys. Picture: Jason Edwards
Siblings Frankie, 5, Elliot, 11 and Gabe, 8, love their toy library toys. Picture: Jason Edwards

GOVERNMENT URGED TO LET TOY LIBRARIES REOPEN

Toy libraries want to be reopened to parents and kids, with operators insisting they're clean and safe.

The State Government has included book libraries in its list of facilities reopening on May 31, but not Victoria's 100 toy lenders.

The latest Department of Health advice says toy libraries must remain closed to the public but can offer services via click and collect borrowing and home delivery.

Toy Libraries Australia president Debbie Williams said she was "working with the government to find a way to get toy libraries open sooner rather than later".

"The concern is that little kids might put things in their mouth when choosing toys at the library but we have good plans in place to prevent this," she said. "We are confident that we can offer a model that minimises any risk to all families."

Ms Williams said that while larger toy libraries with paid staff received JobKeeper and grants to help them provide a service during lockdown, smaller libraries running with only volunteers were struggling to operate.

"The click and collect option is a much bigger workload for volunteers who have to do all the selecting of toys," she said.

"We'd like kids to be able to choose the toys they want in a safe way."

Northcote mother-of-three Batya Atlas has been going to the Collingwood Toy Library since her son Elliot, now 11, was a baby.

"I am really supportive of toy libraries," she said. "They are a fabulous resource for children as they grow up. As they have developed, so have the toy offerings."

Ms Atlas said Elliot and her other children Gabriel, 8, and Frankie, 5, borrowed board games and puzzles to play with during lockdown.

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas has said there will be no public sector pay freeze. Picture: AAP
Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas has said there will be no public sector pay freeze. Picture: AAP

PAY FREEZE RULED OUT FOR OUR KEY WORKERS

The Victorian government has ruled out a public sector pay freeze despite dire economic forecasts and a $773 million deficit in the state Budget.

"We have no plans to put added burden on nurses, paramedics, police and other workers on the front line of the fight against coronavirus," a spokesman for Treasurer Tim Pallas said on Thursday.

The Federal Government has already put public sector wages on hold, while NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced this week she would do the same.

She has foreshadowed job losses unless her proposed 12-month pay freeze is endorsed by parliament.

A new working from home allowance was on Thursday revealed for Victorian electorate officers.

Under the allowance, ongoing and fixed-term electorate officers are eligible for a $100 one-off payment and $20 weekly for home consumables and utilities.

The Victorian government has already spent more than $5 billion on its response to the pandemic.

It had been expecting a surplus of $618 million this year.

grant.mcarthur@news.com.au

Originally published as Victorians' back-to-work plans shelved at last minute



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