COVID-19 Community Update: expansion of restrictions and testing criteria, new modelling and schools (17 April)

17 April 2020

This week the COVID-19 restrictions have been extended, testing of people for the virus has been expanded, new modelling has been released and the National Cabinet has developed seven principles for schools.
We have had a steady decline in the rate of confirmed cases across the state and cases in our local area have not changed.
Here’s a summary of what’s happened this week:
The Prime Minister announced that the current restrictions will stay in place for another four weeks.
The Premier has extended Victoria’s state of emergency until 11 May 2020 to continue the measures designed to ‘flatten the curve’ of coronavirus.
Details on the current restrictions can be found here and in the Stay At Home rules.
The Federal Government has released the next phase of COVID-19 modelling known as ‘Nowcasting’.
Nowcasting uses real Australian data from the past 14 days to forecast what the next 14 days will bring.
The data helps to more accurately understand the present state of the epidemic, given the known time from infection to illness and imperfect case findings. From this point, model forecasts can be projected to estimate what the next fortnight will bring based on the current rate of epidemic growth.
The government says these models will be important in informing the effectiveness of interventions and will be important in shaping our response strategies as the pandemic evolves.
The modelling presentation can be found here.
The Federal Government has announced that they are working towards three goals to ensure that we can be confident it is safe to lessen restrictions when the appropriate time comes.

  1. A broader testing regime – a sentinel surveillance system, which takes a more proactive approach to testing
  2. Greater tracing of the virus using technology - contact tracing needs to be lifted to an industrial capacity
  3. A better local response capability - we need to be confident in containing outbreaks

I’m pleased that the National Cabinet has agreed to expand testing criteria to include all people with consistent clinical symptoms.
Testing is now recommended for people with new onset of other clinical symptoms consistent with COVID-19 such as headache, myalgia, runny or stuffy nose, anosmia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea AND who are close contacts of a confirmed case of COVID-19 or who have returned from overseas in the past 14 days.
This will assist in finding cases that are being transmitted in the community. More details are here.
School returned this week, with many parents undertaking the difficult juggling act of working and educating their children from home.
There has been some confusion for parents about whether they can send their children to school if they need to work.
The Victorian Education Minister stated on ABC radio yesterday:
“Students should not be turned away if there is no way that they can have a home learning environment. It’s a conversation between the school and the parents. The message is clear: if you can learn from home, you must learn from home”.
A list of seven principles for schools has been developed and agreed on by education experts and Ministers:

  1. Our schools are critical to the delivery of high quality education for students and to give our children the best possible start in life. Our education systems are based on the recognition that education is best delivered by professional teachers to students in the classroom on a school campus.
  2. It is accepted that during the COVID-19 crisis, alternative flexible, remote delivery of education services may be needed.
  3. Our schools must be healthy and safe environments for students, teachers and other staff to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of education to students.
  4. State and Territory Governments and non-government sector authorities are responsible for managing and making operational decisions for their schools systems respectively, subject to compliance with relevant funding agreements with the Commonwealth.
  5. Decisions regarding the response to COVID-19 in the schooling sector must continue to be informed by expert, official, national and state-based public health and education advice, consistent with these national principles.
  6. All students must continue to be supported by their school to ensure participation in quality education during the COVID-19 crisis.
  7. The health advice consistently provided by the AHPPC (Australian Health Protection Principal Committee) is that attendance at a school campus for education represents a very low health risk to students. The advice also notes that appropriate practices must be employed at schools, like at other workplaces, to provide a safe working environment for school staff, including teachers, and that the specific AHPPC advice regarding school campuses should be followed.

Further details can be found here.
As of this morning, Victoria had 1302 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Fourteen people have now died and 1159 have recovered.

Please note that the figures on local cases below are current as of 8:54am on April 17, 2020 when they were last officially updated by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.
Local case numbers across our region have not changed since my previous update. Please note that case numbers are cumulative so they reflect the total number of people diagnosed since the start of the outbreak, even though those people might have recovered.

The Victorian Parliament will sit for one day to deal with urgent legislation next Thursday. After that, it is not known when Parliament will return.
I am pushing for changes to the Local Government Act to allow councils to meet remotely.
I have also called for greater oversight of government decision-making, as is occurring in New Zealand and at a national level. It is critically important to make sure there is accountability and scrutiny at a time when the government has extraordinary power. You can read more on that here.
The Federal Parliament is planning for a trial sitting in May.
The Victorian Government is due to bring urgent legislation to the Parliament in line with decisions of the National Cabinet to support tenants and landlords through the coronavirus pandemic by reforming residential and commercial tenancy laws.
These include:

  • introducing a temporary ban on evictions;
  • pausing rental increases for six months;
  • providing land tax relief for landlords; and
  • rent relief for tenants experiencing financial hardship.

Thank you to those who have already contacted me on this issue. If you are likely to be affected by these changes, I welcome any feedback you might wish to provide to me before this bill is debated in Parliament next week.
As restrictions continue and our daily activities are curtailed, it is important we all continue to be mindful of our mental health, and that of those around us.

Expanded counselling services are available through:

  • Beyond Blue – phone 1300 224 636
  • Lifeline – phone 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline – phone 1800 551 800
  • SuicideLine – 1300 651 251

As always, if I can be of assistance in anyway please don’t hesitate to get in touch. 

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