Victoria reports five new local Covid cases including ‘extremely concerning’ mystery case in aged care

The Morrison government is continuing to declare getting vaccinated is “not a race” even as Victorian health authorities confirmed five new locally acquired infections – including one mystery case in aged care – on day three of the state’s fourth Covid lockdown.

The new cases reported on Sunday morning take the total number in the Melbourne-based outbreak to 40.

Victoria’s acting premier, James Merlino, announced a $250m support package for businesses on Sunday while stating he was “beyond disappointed” the prime minister and federal treasurer had declined to help workers with financial assistance.

The vaccine roll-out was a race, Merlino insisted. Victoria wanted to go faster but was being held back by the federal government failing to secure enough supply, he said.

One of the new positive cases reported on Sunday was a healthcare provider in an aged care home in the western suburb of Maidstone.

Colin Singh, the Arcare chief executive, said the worker had received her first dose of a Covid vaccine, was wearing a mask and had not displayed symptoms when she last worked at the centre on Thursday.

Singh said “a significant number of our residents” had also received a first vaccine dose.

“I want to assure you that, whilst we hoped that this would not happen again, we are well prepared, and our infection control practices put us in a good place to manage this outbreak effectively,” he said in the statement on Sunday.

Arcare Maidstone has capacity for 90 residents, according to its website. It was relatively untouched by Covid last year – compared to other Victorian facilities – recording only seven cases.

Victoria’s Covid commander, Jeroen Weimar, said on Sunday the case in the aged care home was of “extreme concern” because it was a mystery case.

“I am concerned that at this point in time we don’t have an original acquisition source,” for the healthcare worker, Weimar told reporters.

The woman, who lives in Altona, worked at the facility on Wednesday and Thursday and had not been working at other centres. She was tested on Friday after suffering mild symptoms.

Weimar said more than half of the home’s residents and about a third of the staff had been vaccinated.

Victorian authorities don’t have oversight of the rollout in the private aged care sector which is the commonwealth’s responsibility. But Weimer said vaccinations had been offered to about 5,300 residents at 180 units in the state-run sector since March.

The Morrison government is under increasing pressure regarding the slow pace of the vaccination rollout overall and for failing to emphasise the urgency of getting inoculated.

On Sunday, both the deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, and the federal trade minister, Dan Tehan, resisted using the term “race” to characterise the vaccine rollout.

McCormack told Sky News: “Well it’s not a race, it has to be systematic, it has to be rolled out in a way that Australians obviously need to know that they have to get the jab.”

“But we can’t have everybody going and getting it at the same time and that’s why there has been a phase-in system,” he said.

On the ABC, Tehan declared “you don’t describe a vaccine rollout as a race”.

“The Melbourne Cup is a race, the Stawell Gift is a race – we are trying to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we can,” he said.

Merlino, however, made clear that Victoria would have already offered the vaccine to more people if it trusted the federal government could guarantee supply. Last week, the state government changed its criteria to allow any person aged in their 40s to get vaccinated.

When asked about McCormack’s comments regarding the rollout not being a race, Merlino said: “That was said again today? There you go.”

“We could do more but you have got to have some long-term confidence in the supply of the vaccine,” the acting premier said. “Now, the vaccine program has been delayed. That is a fact. We could do more. That is a fact. I would love to increase eligibility but it comes down to the confidence of supply from the commonwealth.”

The four other cases reported on Sunday were linked to known outbreaks: the Whittlesea cluster and the Port of Melbourne workplace cluster.

Weimar said aside from the aged care staff member, contact tracers were primarily concerned with cases linked to a food delivery worker who visited a number of sites across Melbourne; a case at Mount Ridley College which had led to 700 staff and students isolating; and a case at a Mickleham display home.

The number of vaccinations and test results reported on Sunday was lower than the records reported on Saturday when 21,626 vaccine doses were administered and 56,624 test results received.

The Victorian health department confirmed late on Saturday it was testing an online booking system for vaccinations which it expected to launch soon. It would take the pressure off telephone hotlines which, at times, have seen people wait more than two hours to make a booking.

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