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Victoria records 148 new coronavirus cases, eight deaths amid push to extend state of emergency

Victoria has recorded 148 new cases of coronavirus and eight more deaths, as it becomes increasingly unlikely Premier Daniel Andrews’ bid to extend the current state of emergency for 12 months will pass parliament.

The premier confirmed on Tuesday the latest victims of the virus were two men in their 70s, four women and one man in their 80s and one woman in her 90s.

Seven of those deaths are linked to outbreaks in aged care settings.

The latest fatalities bring the state’s death toll to 438 and the national figure to 525.

It comes as crossbenchers indicated they will vote down a proposed 12-month extension to Victoria’s state of emergency legislation.

Mr Andrews on Monday flagged plans to rewrite the Public Health and Wellbeing Act to allow a state of emergency to last for up to 18 months.

At present, the declaration can only run for six months and is due to expire on September 13 along with Melbourne’s stage four lockdown and regional Victoria’s stage three rules.

Mr Andrews said his government would no longer be able to dictate guidelines on mandatory mask use, isolation rules and business density limits without a 12-month extension.

“We’ve got to protect public health, there can be no economic rebuilding until we fix this problem,” he told reporters.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the state coalition would vehemently oppose a long-term extension.

It means the Labor government will have to win the support of four upper-house crossbenchers to pass it into law if and when parliament next sits.

But prominent crossbencher Fiona Patten said as the proposal stands, it is doomed to fail.

“If there was some compromise, if there was some reworking of this, if there was an idea or some surety that there was a plan ahead, then I think you might bring the crossbenchers to the table,” the Reason Party MP told 3AW.

“But at the moment they are not there.”

Former federal senator Derryn Hinch also confirmed two crossbenchers from his Justice Party will not support the bill.

“We will vote against 12 months,” he told 3AW.

“You can’t give any government an open check for 12 months, that’s not on and we won’t support it.”

Liberal Democrats MPs David Limbrick and Tim Quilty, Transport Matters MP Rod Barton and Sustainable Australia MP Clifford Hayes have also indicated they will block the current proposal.

The backlash prompted Mr Andrews to take to Twitter overnight to tell Victorians the proposal was about keeping people safe and does not mean the current lockdown will be extended.

“Extending the State of Emergency is about ensuring that we can legally make the changes our health experts need to keep us safe,” he said.

“This does not change how long our current lockdown will last, or increase the restrictions we face.”

There are currently 617 Victorians in hospital, of which 35 of are receiving intensive care and 19 are on ventilators.

‘Poor infection practice’

Meanwhile, new research shows more than two-thirds of Victorian healthcare workers were likely to have caught COVID-19 at work during the state’s devastating second wave.

The state government announced on Tuesday it would ramp up safety measures at hospitals, aged care and disability facilities after revealing most recent infections in the sector had been acquired on the job.

Under the strategy, every health service in Victoria will introduce “personal protective equipment spotters” and study potential aerosol hotspots.

They will also trial “fit testing” for high-risk staff, to make sure PPE is being worn properly.

The new detailed research shows at least 69 per cent of healthcare infections across the second wave have likely happened in workplaces.

In the first wave, only 22 per cent of infected healthcare workers were believed to have caught coronavirus on the job.

“Poor infection practice has probably been the main driver of infection,” Victorian chief medical officer Andrew Wilson told reporters on Tuesday.

“There have also been issues about aged care workers moving between different facilities as a key driver of infection.”

Other leading causes of infection in the sector were shared spaces, including contact in tea and break rooms, substandard PPE use and ageing ventilation systems.

“There have been outbreaks related to how it (PPE) was stored,” Mr Wilson said.

“There have been outbreaks (linked) to even residents potentially contaminating the PPE.”

Active infections among healthcare workers, in aged care and disability facilities are all decreasing.

But Health Minister Jenny Mikakos flagged more action would be undertaken to slow the spread in health settings.

“If the tea room, for example, is just too small for people to be able to have a meal safely, then we will be establishing marquees and other facilities with appropriate heating to make sure healthcare workers can have access to those basic amenities,” she said.

Metropolitan Melbourne residents are subject to Stage 4 restrictions and must comply with a curfew between the hours of 8pm and 5am. During the curfew, people in Melbourne can only leave their house for work, and essential health, care or safety reasons.

Between 5am and 8pm, people in Melbourne can leave the home for exercise, to shop for necessary goods and services, for work, for health care, or to care for a sick or elderly relative.

All Victorians must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live. 

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at https://sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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