July 28, 2020 / 2:39 AM / 9 days ago

Australian PM abandons interstate tour to tackle coronavirus crisis

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison cut short an interstate tour on Tuesday to help deal with a “very complex” coronavirus outbreak in aged care homes in Melbourne, the epicentre of a second wave of infection that has alarmed health officials.

FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a joint press conference at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state with its capital in Melbourne, reported 384 new COVID-19 cases or 96% of Australia’s total new infections on Tuesday, officials said.

Australia has avoided the high COVID-19 casualty rates of other countries, but a wave of community transmission in Victoria has prompted a lockdown in Melbourne, the only Australian city where facemasks are mandatory in public.

“You have a combination of the community transmission which is widespread in Melbourne finding its way into many facilities, and in particular it has found its way into the aged care workforce,” Morrison told reporters in Yandina, a town in Queensland state.

Weekly employment data showed that between mid-June and mid-July the outbreak in Victoria had wiped 2.2% of the state’s payroll jobs.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said 769 active coronavirus cases had been linked to aged care centres.

“I cannot stand here and tell you I have confidence that staff and management across a number of private sector aged care facilities are able to provide the care that is appropriate to keep their residents safe,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.

An industrial tribunal ruled on Monday that staff in aged care homes, including nurses, would receive two weeks of paid pandemic leave to relieve financial pressure on carers to work when they feel ill.

Morrison said the finite supply of skilled workers in the sector made managing the outbreak very challenging.

The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne reported that an infant, staff member and two parents linked to its neonatal intensive care unit had been diagnosed with the virus. It had not found a connection between the four cases, it said.

In New South Wales state, where 14 new infections were reported on Tuesday, police dispersed an illegal Black Lives Matter protest. One protester was detained.

Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; Editing by Jane Wardell and Stephen Coates

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