“If we had their death rate and outcomes, we would’ve had about 14,000 deaths in Australia, not just over 100,” Professor Murphy said. “So I think we have done well, we are in a very cautious phase now of trying to move to a living-with-COVID economy.”
The nation was in a strong position to relax distancing measures “with a fair amount of caution”, he said.
Professor Murphy said eight cases confirmed overnight were all returned travellers and one case of community transmission was reported on Tuesday.
He warned there remained a risk of a resurgence of infections, “particularly in the eastern seaboard states where there have been recently some community transmission”.
Professor Murphy said while COVID-19 had been detected in more than 30 aged care facilities, this had developed into “outbreaks of material significance” at only two such centres.
Aged care quality and safety commissioner Janet Anderson criticised Anglicare’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak at Newmarch House in Sydney’s west, the site of one of Australia’s largest clusters, saying the commission had been left with no choice but to order it to bring in an independent adviser to oversee its management.
She told the hearing Anglicare Sydney, which is at risk of losing its licence to operate Newmarch House over the outbreak, “was not as well placed as we needed them to be to make right, well-informed decisions and then see that through to immediate implementation”.
“The gaps were too large,” she said. “We weren’t getting the responsiveness that we expected from an aged care service managing an outbreak.”
Ms Anderson said aged care operators retained the ultimate responsibility for their facilities during outbreaks, when “business as usual” must be abandoned and efforts made to swiftly isolate residents and seek expert advice on infection control.
Staff potentially exposed to the virus must be taken off the roster, supplies of personal protective equipment secured and replacement staff trained in PPE use brought in.
Asked about Anglicare chief executive Grant Millard’s recent comments regarding confusion over whether federal or state health authorities were in charge during an outbreak, Ms Anderson said the legislation made it clear “the approved provider retains overall legal responsibility”, while state public health authorities were “the first responders”.
“There is no footnote in the act which says ‘except in a pandemic’,” she told the hearing.
Ms Anderson said the reason the Newmarch House outbreak was so much worse than others in the sector was “the extent of the initial exposure of staff and residents”.
“That was set before day one … by virtue of the degree of exposure of those residents and staff to an individual who, unwittingly, was infectious while working at the services,” she said.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.