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Diversion plans from Melbourne changed for overseas arrivals

“The ABF continues to work with state and territory authorities on their ability to receive repatriation flights at their airports based on the available health resources and quarantine capacity.”

A federal government source said repatriation flights could still be diverted to other cities should the need arise, but for now Victoria will take the arrivals.

The plan came as neighbouring states stepped up precautions against Victorians after the state suffered its seventh consecutive day of double-digit increase in new coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

Federal health authorities have questioned Victoria’s management of the mandatory hotel quarantine arrangements, which have been key to Australia’s success to date in suppressing the coronavirus.

Multiple federal government sources have confirmed concerns about the lack of expert medical personnel advising hotel workers, who have the task of delivering food and escorting guests without appropriate personal protective equipment.

Victorian health authorities are now reviewing the staffing and management of hotels used to detain and isolate returned travellers for 14 days.

The same private security firm oversees quarantine arrangements at both the Stamford Plaza and Rydges hotels where infected staff members have spread the virus to close contacts and contributed to family outbreaks that forced the Victorian government to reintroduce restrictions.

A senior federal government source said hotel staff had no training in the use of PPE and “would wear the same mask and gloves for hours”, while no medical waste bins were provided in the initial weeks of hotel quarantine.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, made up of state and territory chief health officers, decided on Monday to review hotel quarantine arrangements around the country to prevent further breaches, and will discuss the matter again on Friday.

A Victorian government spokeswoman said repatriation flights were a matter for the federal government.

“We will continue to accept any returned travellers from overseas into our hotel quarantine program – as this is the best way to prevent returning travellers spreading the virus amongst the wider Victorian community,” she said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt told the ABC on Tuesday morning that the hotel quarantine system was the nation’s “defence against importing cases from around the world”.

Seventeen new COVID-19 cases were recorded in Victoria on Tuesday, underpinned by what Premier Daniel Andrews called “significant community transmission”, particularly across six coronavirus “hotspots” in Moreland, Darebin, Hume, Cardinia, Casey and Brimbank.

Two were part of a family outbreak in Keilor Downs, in Brimbank. That cluster has reached 13 cases across eight households, including a Keilor View primary school student and a worker at a Coles distribution centre in Laverton.

A new outbreak was also confirmed among five members of one family household in the City of Maribyrnong.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has told the state’s tourism operators not to accept visitors from Victoria’s COVID-19 hotspots, while South Australian Premier Steven Marshall announced police would strengthen their presence on the SA-Victorian border.

Essential travellers from Victoria will also need to be pre-approved online before entering South Australia.

As fears of a second wave grow in the state, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he would “work up some advice” on the use of face masks, contrary to previous instructions.

“I don’t think it should be mandated … but I think it might be worthwhile as an additional intervention,” he told ABC radio.

There was also some evidence of renewed stockpiling, as shoppers cleared supermarket shelves of toilet paper for the first time since March.

A Woolworths spokesman said there had been “elevated demand” for toilet paper in “a handful” of Melbourne stores.

“We have plenty of stock to draw on in our distribution centres and will replenish shelves in those stores quickly,” he said.

Woolworths and Aldi reminded customers to buy only what they needed. Coles declined to comment.

The official advice to residents in coronavirus hotspots remains to stay vigilant. Mr Andrews said only those who were unwell should avoid travelling over the school holidays that begin this weekend.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian asked residents of her state to reconsider any visits to Melbourne.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian asked residents of her state to reconsider any visits to Melbourne.Credit:Sydney Morning Herald

Ms Berejiklian, however, added to her message that NSW residents should reconsider travel to Melbourne, saying on Tuesday that NSW’s tourism operators, such as ski resorts, should reject visitors from Victoria’s hotspots.

“I think it’s the prerogative of every business, every organisation to not accept anybody from those hotspots at this time,” she said. “That is basic pandemic management.”

Mr Marshall, meanwhile, said police checkpoints on roads from Victoria into South Australia would increase as his government monitors Victoria’s growing infections “extraordinarily carefully”.

Victoria has recorded 124 cases in the past seven days and on Tuesday contributed 17 of Australia’s 20 cases nationwide. In the past week there have been 49 community transmissions with an unknown source – about the same number as the two months prior.

Coles said on Tuesday that its worker who tested positive would not have handled any groceries or products sold at supermarkets directly.

Brunswick East Primary, in the hotspot of Moreland, was also closed on Tuesday due to a student testing positive after attending school while infectious.

In total, Tuesday’s cases included two from the Keilor Downs outbreak, three detected in routine testing, one in a returned traveller in hotel quarantine and 11 under investigation.

Mr Andrews defended the government’s handling of hotels housing returned travellers and declined Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s offer for the Australian Defence Force to take over their management.

“[Hotel quarantine] is a challenging thing to do from a very practical point of view … [but] no, I don’t think we need to do that now,” Mr Andrews said of the offer.

The Premier said Victoria would introduce an “army” of hundreds of public health workers in coronavirus hotspots, liaising with families and reminding them that they must get tested and stay home if they are unwell.

Mr Andrews also flagged an increased, targeted testing regime in those local government areas, which could include asymptomatic residents.

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He said it was not yet time for a more severe lockdown of those suburbs.

“If and when we need to make announcements about how we’re going to deal with these hotspots further, then of course we will. But that’s not today,” the Premier said.

Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said it was hard to understand why Mr Andrews was refusing to accept the opportunity to have the Australian Defence Force help secure quarantine hotels.

“It’s good enough in New South Wales and they’ve got better results than we have,” he said. “The Premier needs to explain why he’s refusing to allow the ADF to help Victoria because goodness knows we need help.”

With David Estcourt

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