“Many, many Victorians are already doing exactly what they’re being asked to do – they’re staying home if they’ve got symptoms, they’re getting information, they’re staying informed,” Mr Andrews said on Wednesday morning.
“There are significant powers to limit peoples’ liberty if you flout orders made by the Chief Health Officer or myself.”
Victoria is now treating the coronavirus outbreak as a “class two” emergency and has begun considering a higher response level that would allow authorities to detain people under public health legislation.
In a class two emergency, used previously in floods and extreme heat, the Emergency Management Commissioner takes control of the state’s response, acting as a centralised decision-making body that receives information from other government agencies and informs the public.
On Tuesday, three more people – all of whom arrived in Melbourne on flights from the US – tested positive for coronavirus in Victoria.
Second school closes
All St Kilda campuses of Yeshivah – Beth Rivkah closed on Wednesday, becoming the second Melbourne school to shut its doors, following the closure of Carey Baptist Grammar on Tuesday.
A staff member, a man in his 50s, worked at the school for half a day on Monday while he was infectious.
A number of students at the college who had close contact with the staff member will be tested on Wednesday for COVID-19. The school has begun mapping who the staff member had contact with.
The man was on flight QF94 from Los Angeles that arrived in Melbourne on March 7, a day before he became unwell.
Four families from the school, including the staff member’s family, were on the same flight. Test results for people in those families are expected later on Wednesday.
The St Kilda East group of schools includes girls’ and boys’ primary and secondary schools, as well as an early learning centre and a synagogue, which will also be closed. Together, there are about 1300 students at the schools.
“Please stay at home as much as possible tomorrow,” reads an email to parents from the school’s principal, Dr Shimon Waronker.
The additional cases take the total number of cases in Victoria to 21.
Updated health advice for Australians
The symptoms of coronavirus include:
- Shortness of breath; and
- Breathing difficulties
If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
Measures to slow spread
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the state and federal governments were working to establish standalone GP clinics to provide a “drive-thru” service.
“I ask Victorians for their patience … this will be unprecedented for the Victorian health system. We will not have seen anything like this in all of our lifetime,” Ms Mikakos said.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said widespread school closures were “very complex” but could occur when the coronavirus spread intensifies, expected around May.
One of the more likely measures being considered by authorities during a pandemic stage is identifying the person with coronavirus, quarantining their close contacts, and asking their “casual contacts” to self-monitor.
“Proactive school closures are very complex … but they would be an option to increase social distancing for children knowing that would reduce transmission between kids,” Dr Sutton said.
“You of course have to consider what happens to parents when kids are held at home, where those parents are working and what it means for the workforce, and of course the healthcare workforce in particular.
“This should be ramped up [in schools] already – no hugs, lots of hand washing, distancing of kids and the exclusion of unwell children.”
A man in his 50s arrived in Melbourne from Seattle on March 7 on Virgin Australia flight VA24. Travellers on adjacent rows on the flight are being contacted.
He had a dry cough and flu-like symptoms on the day he arrived, before developing flu-like symptoms days later. He is isolated at home.
Three close contacts, including two children, are being monitored for symptoms and are self-isolating.
Before being diagnosed, he visited the Mussel and Jazz Festival at South Melbourne Market on March 7 between 2pm and 3:30pm. Later that day he attended a rugby union match between the Rebels and Lions at AAMI Park where he sat in section 9.
Both the 20th and 21st cases, which include the school staff member, were on flights from the US which have had confirmed COVID-19 cases in passengers this week (UA0600 and QF94). Both cases are recovering in home isolation.
The 20th case is a woman in her 20s who has recently travelled to multiple locations in the US. She became unwell on February 29, shortly after returning to Melbourne.
The Health Department is contacting the woman’s close family, friends and colleagues on Wednesday to provide them with further information. Those close contacts will self-isolate.
The Health Department is continuing to contact passengers on both flights UA0600 and QF94.
Paul is a reporter for The Age.
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.