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Liberals claim vindication as Sutton admits Cedar Meats shortcomings

“The state government can’t arrogantly dismiss that it was handled perfectly. It is clear it has not been,” Ms Crozier said.

“Employees deserve answers as to how this cluster has spiralled to 91 cases and growing each day, and so do Victorians. It is important to understand what has happened so that another cluster of this nature doesn’t occur again.”

The state government can’t arrogantly dismiss that it was handled perfectly. It is clear it has not been.

Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier

Professor Sutton said the first Cedar Meats employee to test positive for coronavirus received the diagnosis on April 2, but had told authorities that he had not been at work for four weeks before becoming unwell.

A second worker tested positive on April 24. After a third worker tested positive on April 26, the health department shut the abattoir on April 29 and told its 350 staff to self-isolate.

On Thursday, Professor Sutton said if he could go back in time, he would shut the abattoir down after the second case.

“It was the first meatworks outbreak in Australia. I think even two linked cases is probably enough to shut a place down and probably regardless of size,” he told 3AW radio.

“We were proportionate in as much as we said, ‘Everyone should be tested, consider everyone a close contact’.

“But maybe we shouldn’t have waited for a third linked case. Maybe for these settings we should shut an entire place down – not just the boning room where it all started – but an entire facility.”

As the first employee at Cedar Meats to contract the virus said he was not at work while infectious, Professor Sutton said the cluster likely started because the first case mixed with colleagues or contacts of colleagues outside of work, rather than spreading the virus directly at the workplace.

Nine of Australia’s 14 new coronavirus cases on Thursday were in Victoria, including three returned travellers in hotel quarantine, one through testing by a doctor, and five in the Cedar Meats and McDonald’s clusters. Nine people are in hospital in Victoria, including six in ICU.

Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth on Thursday said he did not think Victorian authorities “dropped the ball” on the Cedar Meats outbreak.

“[Rather] it reflects a positive outcome of the COVID-19 epidemic, which is that every time there is a cluster, there is significant reflection on behalf of that jurisdiction … as to how it could be handled better the next time,” Dr Coatsworth said.

Cedar Meats will reopen part of its facility next week, and says it is doing so with the advice and support of the health department.

A statement from the company says its cold storage facility would reopen on Monday, but it was not restarting “production”.

“The cold storage facility requires a minimum of staff,” the company said in a statement. It did not confirm how many workers that involved.

Staff have been notified of the move, along with some contractors and clients.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos’ office was contacted for comment.

With Roy Ward

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