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Military hits hotspots as daily virus infections surge to three-month high

Victoria has recorded 244 new COVID-19 cases in the past 13 days, compared to just 68 in the first fortnight in June.

Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen acknowledged the increasing numbers were ‘‘not where we want to be’’ but flagged further rises due to the door-to-door testing blitz, which will aim to test 10,000 people per day. About 22,000 Victorians were tested on Friday.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen on Saturday.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen on Saturday.Credit:Luis Ascui

‘‘Our aim for the next couple of weeks is to really find every single case, and then get to a point where those cases peak and start going downwards,’’ Dr van Diemen said.

She said almost all the cases recorded in the past 24 hours emerged from known virus hotspots in the northern and western suburbs. There had been no noticeable increase in cases in other parts of Melbourne.

Emergency alerts were sent to residents in Keilor Downs and Broadmeadows yesterday, advising them to participate in the state’s door-to-door testing blitz.

A total of 60 Defence personnel were on the ground yesterday in a range of roles and the number was expected to increase in coming days.

Dr van Diemen defended the testing of returned travellers in Victoria’s quarantine hotels, after it emerged the government was seeking legal advice to make testing compulsory.

On Friday, she revealed about 30 per cent of returned travellers had refused to be tested for COVID-19, meaning up to 5400 of 18,000 travellers had returned to the community without being tested.

‘‘We’re not seeing cases in our community that have … leaked out of hotel quarantine because they haven’t been tested, we’re just not seeing them,’’ she said.

‘‘Where we’re seeing cases is in these suburbs where we’re doing the blitz, in these hotspot suburbs.’’

Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said any returned travellers refusing a test should have to pay their own hotel costs.

Lines at a pop-up coronavirus testing clinic in Fawkner, one of 10 'hotspot' suburbs.

Lines at a pop-up coronavirus testing clinic in Fawkner, one of 10 ‘hotspot’ suburbs.Credit:Justin McManus

‘‘I think that’ll sort it out pretty quickly,’’ he said.

Two new pop-up testing sites opened in Fawkner and Pakenham yesterday, bringing the number across Melbourne to 13 as part of the testing blitz in hotspot suburbs.

Yesterday’s new cases included eight linked to outbreaks and one returned traveller in hotel quarantine.

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A third staff member from a Coles distribution centre in Laverton has tested positive, after all workers were tested this week. One more case, a close contact of a worker, was detected in the Stamford Plaza Hotel cluster, taking the total to 18.

It comes as public transport data shows the number of people on buses almost doubled in some Victorian areas in June, while train use in hotspot council areas spiked by up to 40 per cent.

Transport data released to The Age showed the number of users grew week-on-week in the first half of June, despite Premier Daniel Andrews’ edict to work from home where possible and avoid unnecessary travel.

In hotspot Casey, numbers on trains grew by 40 per cent in the week of June 10. Travellers on buses grew by 92 per cent in Nillumbik, and 63 per cent in Cardinia, another hotspot.

Newly appointed Public Transport Minister Ben Carroll said the government had increased cleaning and was not planning to limit numbers on trains, trams or buses because it would create crowding in other areas such as platforms or tram stops.

Georgina and Chantelle Daher after being tested in Fawkner on Saturday.

Georgina and Chantelle Daher after being tested in Fawkner on Saturday.Credit:Justin McManus

Georgina and Chantelle Daher were among the hundreds of people to be tested at the new Fawkner site on Saturday at CB Smith Reserve.

The volume of swabs taken during the Melbourne blitz meant they could expect to wait between three to five days for their results instead of the usual 24-48 hours.

The mother and daughter pair, part of Melbourne’s large Lebanese community, had been isolating at home and said “100 per cent, yes” that everyone in Fawkner should be getting tested whether they had symptoms or not.

“If you saw that guy saying ‘yeah, I’m still hugging my family’. We’re not all doing that,” Chantelle said. “We’re all isolating and doing the right thing.”

Both were nervous about the intrusive nature of the ‘deep nasal’ and throat swab tests.

“My palms were so sweaty on the way there,” Chantelle said. “You hear so many different things about it, but it was fine, just a little uncomfortable.”

About 2500 people are in Victorian hotel quarantine. Dr van Diemen said returned travellers were asked to be tested on days 3 and 11, the latter test assessing whether they were clear of COVID-19 before leaving the hotel.

Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an infectious disease expert, said returned travellers refusing to do the first test raised the risk of spreading the virus. But the 14-day quarantine period was double the average incubation period.

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