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Playground transmission probed as COVID-19 spikes among children

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“Getting to a playground is one of the few things you have left to alleviate boredom with the kids, it’s a punch in the guts,” he said.

Child health experts are divided about the government’s approach.

Fiona Russell from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute said the Delta strain was more infectious for both adults and children, and therefore harder to mitigate, saying “the problem is there isn’t an alternative [to Melbourne’s lockdown] at the moment because there’s been no plan for the schools”.

“Ideally, teachers should be prioritised for vaccination, VCE students should be offered vaccination and parents should also be vaccinated. Those are all the things that should help prevent infections in children,” Professor Russell said.

However, infectious diseases paediatrician Professor Robert Booy questioned the basis of the government’s playground ban.

“There is a statement by the Chief Health Officer that perhaps one contact in a playground may have led to disease transmission,” the University of NSW academic said. “Is this evidence-based medicine? Do we really base policy on one possible case of transmission in a playground?”

Tape blocks off access to swings at Basterfield Park in Hampton East on Tuesday.

Tape blocks off access to swings at Basterfield Park in Hampton East on Tuesday.Credit:

“Despite the increase in hospitalisation of children in some countries, there are very few deaths. Indeed, the Australian health system is so much better than the United States’, that we are unlikely to see any more than [a] few deaths in children despite the high number of infections.”

More exposure sites were added on Tuesday, including a childcare centre in the outer southeast suburb of Carrum Downs, and the government has urged more people to get tested in a bid to contain the outbreak and ease restrictions on September 2, as planned.

There are five unlinked cases in the St Kilda East area, near where 69 guests from Melbourne’s Orthodox Jewish community attended an illegal engagement party last week.

Ms Matson said “these cases aren’t linked by age, they’re not linked by faith, they aren’t all in the same book club, they’re not all in the same footy club.”

About 50 exposure sites now run from South Melbourne to Brighton, fuelling fears of the potential for further outbreaks.

However, amid anger over the engagement party that resulted in at least one case of transmission, Mr Andrews called out cases of anti-Semitism directed at the Jewish community.

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In one case, a Royal Melbourne Hospital staff member was fired after allegedly posting an anti-Semitic comment on social media about the party.

“Anti-Semitism is unacceptable and evil, and we have a zero-tolerance approach to that in our state,” Mr Andrews said.

“The event … was not a function of being Jewish. Those people [who broke the rules] are being dealt with. Them breaking the rules was not a reflection on the Jewish community more broadly.”

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien agreed, saying there was no point in “scapegoating” people.

“The vast majority of Victorians make good decisions, a small minority have made bad decisions,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what part of Victoria they live in, doesn’t matter if they go to a church, a mosque, a synagogue or temple or nowhere. It doesn’t matter which footy team they go for.”

The comments came after Melbourne’s lockdown was extended for two more weeks, prompting an angry backlash from civil liberty groups, the state opposition and fatigued Victorians.

As mental health experts warned about the impact of the prolonged lockdown, Mr Andrews acknowledged on Tuesday that the government might have to plough more resources into the mental health system to help those who were struggling to cope.

Professor Sutton also threw his support behind appointing a mental health commander to appear at the government’s daily briefings and provide guidance to Victorians “on how best to manage in these difficult circumstances”.

Under the latest changes, the number of staff will be restricted on construction sites and rules around exercise have also been tightened.

Victoria’s Public Transport Minister also announced on Tuesday that late-night public transport services would not run on Fridays and Saturdays during the lockdown.

Labor MPs who spoke to The Age on condition of anonymity for fear of publicly criticising the government said there were pockets of unrest among marginal seat holders about the latest restrictions, but many MPs said they were confident in the Premier’s approach, which was described as a deliberate tactic to “lay blame elsewhere”.

“[Mr Andrews] aligns himself with the underlying sentiment in the community that it’s not our fault,” one Labor backbencher said.

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“If you have to announce a lockdown extension and you appear angry, as he did, then it can’t be your fault.

“Instead, he goes out there and says it’s NSW, or it’s the people at the engagement party and it works.

“If things weren’t going so bad for the federal government and NSW, then the mood might be different here, but it’s not.”

With Annika Smethurst, Sumeyya Ilanbey and David Estcourt

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