A resident from one of the public housing towers in North Melbourne is anxiously awaiting the press conference from the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, at 4.30pm today, because he says he has no information of when the hard lockdown the towers are subject to will officially end.
Residents were told they would move to a similar lockdown as metropolitan Melbourne once the residents had all been tested and results collected.
He came to Australia from Colombia a few months ago to care for his mother who also lives in the tower, because she has cancer and has undergone chemotherapy. He told me he got a job in a warehouse at Woolworths to support his mother, but he hasn’t been able to go to work due to the lockdown.
He says he has had no luck accessing the relief payment offered by the state government to those in the forced lockdown who can’t go to work because of it. He says he is “relaxed” about the need for lockdown but anxious about how to access the payment and other relief offered by the state government.
He says his mother is recovering from her cancer surgery and only able to eat certain foods, but until late on Wednesday all she had been delivered were sugary foods. She finally received meals appropriate for her condition yesterday. He says they will wait by the television for the premier’s announcement.
“We haven’t been told anything about what’s happening to us,” he says. “I ask the police every day, they know nothing. My family and I have tested negative, yet we are told being locked in here is for our own safety. But we now feel like we are at more risk of the virus because we can’t go out and we know there are infected people here.”
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Calls from Victorians to mental health support services have doubled in the past fortnight as Melburnians re-enter a six-week lockdown, the chief executive of Beyond Blue has said. Victorians now make up half of all calls to the organisation, evidence that residents are under increased strain as Covid-19 case numbers rise.
“What people are contacting us talking about is this sense of frustration and exhaustion,” the chief executive, Georgie Harman, said. “People are feeling incredibly worried and anxious, they’re feeling very overwhelmed.”
Mental health services had already been experiencing extremely high demand during the pandemic. “[These numbers] come off the back of contacts to our support services being 60% higher in April and May compared to the same period in 2019 and then 47% higher in June … so we’re building off a really high basis,” Harman said.
“The reintroduction of stage three restrictions in Victoria [is] just really exacerbating this and I think there is a really low mood and a sense of real uncertainty … There’s a lot of concern, stress, worry, anxiety, and that’s really having a toll on people’s mental health and wellbeing.”
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Victoria ‘much worse’ now than in March, expert says
Prof Rinaldo Bellomo is the director of intensive care research at Austin Health and said because his hospital is outside of hotspot zones, staff there feel prepared and equipped. But he said there was a significant difference between increasing cases at the beginning of the pandemic compared to the increasing cases now, namely that a higher proportion of cases previously came from returned travellers. That meant levels of community transmission were lower previously than they are now.
On 22 March, just before Australia’s national lockdown, there were 67 new cases of Covid-19 cases in Victoria and a total number of 296 cases. Three cases were thought to have been acquired through community transmission. However, 191 cases were announced in Victoria on Tuesday 7 July, the highest increase throughout the pandemic, and all of those were a result of community transmission.
“This is bad,” Bellomo said. “In case someone hasn’t appreciated that, this is serious stuff. I just don’t know how to put it aside from that. Now, hopefully because we’ve locked down that will come down rapidly. But this is much worse, this is not just simply a return to what we had in March.”
He added that he was concerned given the level of community transmission there would be cases among Victoria police, who on Saturday surrounded nine public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne en masse without wearing masks. However, police at the scene have been wearing personal protective gear since then.
“I was watching the police surrounding these areas of high viral presence and I just thought about how much they are at risk of becoming infected,” he said. “When they went to those buildings, they were spectacularly exposed with no defences. The risk for Joe Bloggs and Mary Jane walking down the street is much, much greater now than before the previous 22 March lockdown.”
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Western Australia hardens border for Victorians
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Victoria’s public hospitals have been advised to remain at 75% levels of elective surgery as senior doctors warn that there are not enough hospital beds to meet a surge in demand, and that conditions are placing health workers at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19.
Guardian Australia understands work is under way to deliver equipment needed to treat extra coronavirus patients in hospitals, and it is hoped a further 400 ICU and critical care beds can be added throughout the state.
Almost two dozen healthcare workers and patients have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in recent weeks in Victoria, including doctors, nurses and paramedics. During the “first wave” of the virus that prompted a national lockdown in March, non-urgent elective surgery was put on hold to make room for suspected and known Covid-19 patients.
Now, a senior doctor working in one Victorian hospital has told Guardian Australia that “there is no free, or surge bed capacity, at the moment”.
Just yesterday on my shift we had no cubicles in the emergency department and we had patients waiting for 24 hours to go to the ward and doctors were having to see people in waiting rooms again, which is where we were six months ago in the first few weeks in the pandemic,” said the doctor. “We only had three beds available for Covid or suspected Covid patients. That’s scary. The Australian hospital system is always at 100% capacity. There aren’t a lot of spare beds.”
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