Prime Minister Scott Morrison has accused a Tasmanian aged care worker of lying about their contacts after testing positive for COVID-19.
This comes in the same week as his Chief Medical Officer accused Tasmanian health workers of having an “illegal dinner party”, while it later came to light that the accusations were based on rumour.
Last week, the Tasmanian government closed two hospitals because of a case of coronavirus putting at least 1200 hospital staff – and their households of about 4000 people – into quarantine for two weeks as a “super clean” of the facilities is undertaken.
The North West Regional Hospital and North West Private Hospital in Burnie were closed.
Speaking to Triple M Hobart, the prime minister said it was a classic case of why more rigorous contact tracing was needed.
“We had someone down there not tell the truth to the contract tracers about where they’ve been and who they’ve been with,” he said on Friday.
“And that means a lot of people have been put at risk in northwest Tasmania.
“They had been working in the health system more broadly, the aged care system, so this has been very unhelpful.”
The aged care worker, who was diagnosed on Wednesday, worked at both the North West Regional Hospital and North West Private Hospital.
It was revealed on Thursday night the worker also completed shifts at Melaleuca Nursing Home in East Devonport, Eliza Purton Home for the Aged in Ulverstone and Coroneagh Park in Penguin.
Since then, about 500 people from all three homes were tested for COVID-19 after the healthcare worker tested positive for the virus.
Tasmania Premier Peter Gutwein confirmed on Sunday a 79-year-old woman from the Melaleuca Nursing Home is the only person whose test has come back positive.
She has been transferred to Launceston Hospital for care.
However, Tasmania’s director of public health Dr Mark Veitch contradicted Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s claim that the aged care worker was dishonest with contact tracers, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Neither I, nor my contact tracing team have provided specific advice to the Prime Minister on this matter,” Veitch told reporters on Friday.
“We take information on face value. We recognise that anyone giving information under pressure may omit information or get things wrong.
“The change in the information was a result of following up an additional lead and taking a very careful approach to the setting in which this person may have posed a risk through the process of contact tracing and quarantine and so on.”
Earlier that week, Brendan Murphy spoke to a parliamentary committee in New Zealand about Australia's efforts to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic.
In footage of the conversation, Murphy told the committee that they thought they were tackling COVID-19 cases in Tasmania until a cluster of 49 cases broke out at a Tasmania hospital because “most of them went to an illegal dinner party of medical workers... we think”.
Of the accusation, Premier Peter Gutwein said: "To be frank, Brendan was commenting on a rumour."
In a statement, Murphy backtracked, saying: “I referred to suggestion that a dinner party may have been the source of some of the transmission in the north-west Tasmania cluster of cases.
"Whilst this possibility had previously been mentioned to me following initial investigations, I am now informed that the contact tracing has not confirmed that such a dinner party occurred."
Tasmanian nurses were incensed and demanded an apology. Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Tasmanian secretary Emily Shepherd told the Sydney Morning Herald that the rumours have sparked a raft of online abuse aimed at nurses and healthcare workers.
“They feel that he should apologise for commenting on some fairly malicious rumours that they feel have caused significant distress… It's taken our members' morale to an all-time low,” she said.
Anglicare confirms resident deaths
The Sydney aged care home at the centre of a large outbreak last week has confirmed a second resident passed away on Sunday morning.
Anglicare confirmed a 94-year-old man with COVID-19 died at its Newmarch House in Caddens on Sunday morning. It follows the death of a 93-year-old man on Saturday.
In a statement, Anglicare confirmed that as of 12pm Sunday 19 April, a total of 41 people (27 residents and 14 staff members) have tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility. The home has approximately 100 residents, all of whom have now been tested.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said there was an “extensive intervention in place” but the most recently reported cases were likely infected many days ago.
“There’s nothing we can do around preventing those cases and I think this extensive testing has identified the cases early,” she said on Sunday.
“Now we need to stop the spread.”
A worker with very mild or no symptoms entered the facility six days in a row, leading Chant to warn even those with minimal symptoms to avoid work and get tested.
All residents have been placed in isolation and staff are following strict PPE and infection control measures.
In their statement, Anglicare said: “Nepean Hospital, under the direction of NSW Health has established a Hospital in the Home program. Under this program, all residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Newmarch will continue to be cared for in the home but will have access to hospital resources and receive oversight by hospital specialists in infectious diseases, as if in the hospital setting.”
Australian measures showing results
Australian states are reporting slowed rates of COVID-19 cases with only 13 new cases reported nationally over a 24-hour period from the 20th to the 21st of April.
Australia’s COVID-19 numbers currently have a growth factor of 1.0, down from a high of 1.39 in March, as reported by the ABC. This means the number of new cases is currently steady, going above 1.0 means that the number of cases is climbing daily.
The worst hit state, NSW, reported just six new cases on Monday and Premier Gladys Berejiklian has expressed her satisfaction with the low rate of infection across the community.
"We're pleased with the trends but of course remaining consistently low is the challenge, as is making sure we reduce that community-to-community transmission – that is what can cause a flare-up," Ms Berejiklian told reporters on Monday.
Of the 6,625 confirmed cases in Australia, 71 have died and 4,258 have been reported as recovered from COVID-19. More than 434,000 tests have been conducted across Australia, according to government data.
Globally, there has been 2,314,621 confirmed cases of the virus with 157,847 deaths.
The US, Spain and Italy are the worst hit nations with 723,605, 195,944 and 178,972 cases respectively, while the US has the highest recorded death toll at 34,203.Do you have an idea for a story?
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