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How a ‘grossly negligent’ rule change by Scott Morrison threatens to spread coronavirus

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Scott Morrison‘s decision to quietly overturn a rule banning aged care staff from working in multiple facilities threatens to create a Covid disaster. 

A worker at Arcare in Maidstone, in Melbourne‘s north-west, became infected with Covid-19 after working at Blue Cross aged care in Sunshine.

Victoria now has three cases linked to aged care, including another worker’s son, the staff member who worked at two facilities, and a resident in her 90s. 

During the height of Malebourne’s Covid outbreak in 2020, the federal government banned aged care workers from taking shifts at multiple locations – offering financial incentives for employees to stay at one centre.

But the scheme was dumped for workers in private residential aged care workers on November 30 and was only reintroduced last week amid the state’s latest outbreak.  

A resident waves from an aged care facility in the Melbourne suburb of Maidstone, with an outbreak of community transmitted Covid-19 finding it’s way into the home

Pictured: Staff leaving Arcare Aged Care facility in Maidstone, Melbourne on Monday, May 31

Pictured: Staff leaving Arcare Aged Care facility in Maidstone, Melbourne on Monday, May 31

Pictured: The Royal Freemasons aged care facility in Footscray is seen, in Melbourne, Monday, May 31

Pictured: The Royal Freemasons aged care facility in Footscray is seen, in Melbourne, Monday, May 31

Shadow Minister for Health Mark Butler described the situation as ‘gross negligence’  and ‘dangerous complacency’ on Monday, and said the prime minister should be held accountable.

‘The government needs to explain why they thought the risk had receded to such a degree that it was able to lift the ban that was in place last year,’ he told reporters.

While public sector aged care workers are still required to only work at one facility, staff at private ones were allowed to work at more than one.

They received an email on Monday urging them to ‘limit their work to a single facility’.

Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino said Mr Morrison should be quizzed on why staff were allowed to work at multiple venues. 

Victoria now has three cases linked to health care facilities, including the son of a worker who previously tested positive from Arcare Maidstone (pictured: The Royal Freemasons aged care facility in Footscray)

Victoria now has three cases linked to health care facilities, including the son of a worker who previously tested positive from Arcare Maidstone (pictured: The Royal Freemasons aged care facility in Footscray)

Acting Premier James Merlino (pictured) is warning a COVID-19 outbreak at an aged care home is likely to worsen as Victoria reported 11 new locally acquired cases

Acting Premier James Merlino (pictured) is warning a COVID-19 outbreak at an aged care home is likely to worsen as Victoria reported 11 new locally acquired cases 

‘Private sector aged care is a federal government responsibility, these are absolutely relevant questions everyone is asking, they should be put to the federal government,’ he said. 

Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said staff should be prevented from working at multiple sites where possible.

‘It is a risk wherever it occurs, it doesn’t matter if it is public or private but the question as to how it is effectively enforced, supported financially or otherwise in terms of policy, is a question for the Commonwealth,’ he said. 

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said the virus affects a disproportionate number of of people in aged care facilities. 

‘I don’t have to remind people in Victoria and Australia, the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has on fatalities and private potential, in residential aged care settings,’ he said. 

Pictured: Staff leaving Arcare Aged Care facility in Maidstone, Melbourne on May 31

Pictured: Staff leaving Arcare Aged Care facility in Maidstone, Melbourne on May 31

Mr Merlino said the next few days for Victoria were ‘critical’ and warned the outbreak, which has shut schools and left seven million confined to their homes, may not yet have reached its peak.

‘I want to be very clear with everyone, this outbreak may well get worse before it gets better,’ he said.

‘We are seeing a small number of cases infecting a large number of contacts. There is no doubt, the situation is incredibly serious.’

Dr Sutton said officials would take it ‘day by day’ in deciding whether to extend the lockdown, which is due to end on Thursday.

‘It’s a day by day prospect but as the acting premier said these are concerning numbers and concerning settings,’ he said.

‘We’ve gone from a single case of the beginning of the month to 4,200 primary close contacts.

Pictured: A staff member entering Arcare Aged Care facility in Maidstone, Melbourne on Monday, May 31

Pictured: A staff member entering Arcare Aged Care facility in Maidstone, Melbourne on Monday, May 31

‘With more numbers today coming through and those really concerning settings, especially in aged care, we are neck and neck with this virus and it is an absolute beast.’

One of the Arcare staff members, despite working with vulnerable people and being eligible for the jabs since February, was not vaccinated and the resident has only had their first jab.

They also work at another aged care home, BlueCross Western Gardens, which is now also on alert.

The federally-ran care homes are understood to have staff working across multiple sites, something not allowed in state-ran facilities.

A further two aged care homes, Royal Freemans Coppin Centre and Royal Freemasons Footscray, have also been exposed as its workers are close contacts of the Arcare staffer.

Health bosses are holding their breath waiting for more test results from the nursing homes, with all four in lockdown and residents confined to their rooms.

Of Australia’s 910 Covid-19 deaths since the pandemic began, three-quarters have been linked to aged care.

The first Arcare employee, who is in her 50s, was infectious for two days while she worked at the facility before testing positive on Saturday.

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