240 new cases, another 13 Victorians die from virus
Another 13 Victorians have died from coronavirus and the state added 240 cases to the tally.
The number of daily cases is slightly higher than Wednesday's 216 cases and Thursday's 221.
DECLINE IN TESTING CAUSES CONCERN
Doctors and nurses supposed to be part of the front line of Victoria's COVID-19 defence have been left idle as Melburnians turn their backs on coronavirus tests.
Testing centres throughout Melbourne's suburbs, set up at a cost of up to $50,000 a week, are seeing as few as 20 people a day.
As Premier Daniel Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton raise concerns about a decline in testing rates, medics working at COVID-19 testing centres have also voiced alarm.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said testing sites had been created so Victorians could access them easily, but new cases could only be identified and isolated if people got tested.
"Getting tested helps keep the people you love safe, which is why we're making sure we have the capacity to test everyone who comes forward," Ms Mikakos said.
"We've made it easier than ever to get tested with more than 180 sites available across Victoria, and we're providing financial support if you need it while you wait for the result."
Healthcare staff have provided details of operating costs of up to $50,000 a week for carpark-style tent testing centres, which should be vital to halting COVID-19 infections.
Medics working at one northern suburbs testing centre said they were staffed with two general practitioners, each earning $160 an hour, four registered nurses and two patient care assistants, operating from tents costing $12,000 a week to hire.
Despite the outlay and strong medical presence, they took just 20 swabs a day this week.
Prof Sutton said testing numbers had gone down.
"We don't want people who are out there with coronavirus to be missing out in these numbers," he said. "Every case we find is an opportunity to stop transmission through isolating those individuals."
Mr Andrews said the 16,109 tests recorded on Wednesday was below usual levels.
"We normally average out at around 20,000," he said.
"There are far less people moving around the community and that may mean that testing for some is not as convenient as it might otherwise have been."
But he urged anyone with symptoms to come forward.
"With such low levels of flu, if you've got symptoms then there's every chance that you've got this virus.
"The most important thing to do is to come forward immediately.
"We've got to keep these testing numbers up.
"It's always a good thing to remind people and ask people to play that important part in our fight against this wicked enemy.
"It also means you've got the most complete picture of how the virus is presenting in different parts of the state at different times."
POTENTIAL WORKSAFE BREACHES IN HOTEL QUARANTINE
WorkSafe has been urged to investigate potential breaches by the Victorian government over its handling of the trouble-plagued hotel quarantine program.
Hotels associated with the program are already under investigation by WorkSafe Victoria.
But calls are growing for investigations to focus on the state government specifically over how it set up and managed the quarantine program.
Any proven breaches of occupational health and safety laws could expose the government to tough new industrial manslaughter laws.
Ken Phillips, a small business advocate who runs non-profit group Self Employed Australia, has asked WorkSafe to investigate possible breaches of the laws.
Opposition workplace safety spokesman Nick Wakeling has also written to WorkSafe requesting a similar investigation.
Mr Phillips said an investigation should focus on the development, planning, management and implementation of the program by the Victorian government and government organisations and agencies, including their contractors and staff.
Anyone can seek a formal WorkSafe investigation, provided a prosecution isn't already underway, within six months of a suspected breach.
It is understood Mr Phillips' application may be too early to force any specific action by WorkSafe.
A WorkSafe Victoria spokesman said an investigation was underway into "workplaces associated with the COVID-19 hotel quarantine program".
The government has come under fire for its handling of the program with genomic sequencing linking more than 90 per cent of Victoria's second wave to the bungled scheme.
A government spokesman said, as an independent regulatory authority, any decisions to make inquiries or investigate workplaces, as well as any enforcement measures, were a matter for WorkSafe.
"A judicial inquiry has been established at arm's length from government to examine issues relating to hotel quarantine," she said.
"We will let the inquiry do its work. Our focus remains on containing this virus."
WorkSafe has inspected 724 workplaces for coronavirus safety breaches since July 19 and issued 62 notices to employers.
Since the pandemic began, 4911 workplaces have been in and 168 notices issued.
INSIDE SURPRISE AGED-CARE INSPECTIONS
The aged-care watchdog has carried out dozens of surprise inspections at Victorian nursing homes this month in a belated effort to prevent further deadly outbreaks.
A total of 59 unannounced spot checks have been completed since August 3 to make sure personal protective equipment is used correctly and infection control protocols are up to scratch.
There are now 10 Victorian aged-care homes connected to outbreaks with more than 100 patients, and another 12 COVID-19 deaths were reported on Wednesday.
Scott Morrison said the situation had "stabilised" but remained "fragile" in a handful of facilities.
About 750 aged-care residents have been transferred to hospital, a significant increase in recent days as the state and federal governments intervened in more virus-hit facilities.
After residents were left without care at several homes when staff were stood down, the commonwealth funded a surge workforce to fill about 20,000 shifts in facilities across Melbourne.
The Victorian Aged-Care Response Centre has also teamed up with Qantas to train 10 flight attendants to become aged-care assistants. If that proves successful, up to 150 will be hired.
But Opposition aged-care spokeswoman Julie Collins said the federal government's surge workforce had been "inadequate" and action should have been taken sooner.
More than 170 Defence Force personnel will be on the ground by the end of the week to help in aged care, including up to 100 who have the job of ensuring COVID-free nursing homes stay safe.
Specialist AUSMAT response teams have also carried out 113 visits to 62 aged-care homes.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister appeared to shift the responsibility for the federally regulated aged-care system, saying public health issues during the pandemic were "matters for Victoria".
He said later the responsibilities of the federal and state governments had overlapped as widespread community transmission saw the virus breach dozens of aged-care homes.
"We understand what our responsibilities are and we will be responsible for those," he said. "It is a complex set of responsibilities and they are shared, and that's why we're working together."
Mr Morrison said he was "deeply distressed" by what had happened in aged-care homes.
After criticism of his government from counsel assisting the aged-care royal commission, Mr Morrison backed the commission to "give us some important insight" into reforms needed.
"People will appear before it, people will make assertions before it, people will tell stories, their own stories," Mr Morrison said.
"And those stories will be heartbreaking. And they'll be hard for Australians to accept and hard for prime ministers to accept as well. Both current and former," he said.
Originally published as 240 new cases, another 13 Victorians die from virus