Melbourne under new restrictions as virus cases surge
UPDATE: Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire residents will be locked down from 11.59pm on July 8.
The strict stay-at-home orders are being reintroduced after another dramatic day in Victoria's fight against coronavirus.
The only reason people in the locked down areas will be allowed to leave their homes will be for shopping for essential items and food, medical reasons and caregiving, work and study, and exercise.
No visitors are allowed in people's houses, public gatherings will be restricted to two people outside your household and school holidays have been extended by one week, expect for Year 11 and 12 students as well as special needs students
EARLIER: Victoria has recorded another 191 new coronavirus cases in the state's worst day since the coronavirus pandemic began.
In a statement from the Department of Health, the overall tally increased by 164 after 27 cases were reclassified
Of the new cases, 37 have been linked to outbreaks and 154 are under investigation.
The state's death toll remains at 22.
The breakdown of new cases linked to known outbreaks are as follows;
- 13 cases relating to the North Melbourne and Flemington public housing towers, with the total now 69.
- 12 new cases linked to the Al-Taqwa College outbreak, with the total now 90.
- 4 new cases have been linked to the Northern Hospital in Epping, with the total now 9. This is made up of 8 staff and 1 household contact.
- 1 case linked to Aitken Hill Primary School in Craigieburn, with the total now 10. The case is a household contact of a confirmed case.
- The remaining new cases are linked to existing family clusters in Truganina, Patterson Lakes/Lysterfield, Fawkner and Sunshine West.
The massive jump in cases comes as Department of Health contact tracers battle to prevent new clusters emerging in suburbs not yet locked down.
The Herald Sun understands their job is being made more difficult by an increasing reluctance among sections of the west and north western community to share information about where they have been and who their close contacts are.
In some cases people have reported delays of up to five days in finding out they are a close contact of a confirmed case, during which time they may have spread coronavirus further into new communities.
STATEWIDE LOCKDOWN COULD BE CONSIDERED
A statewide lockdown would be considered if the Victorian situation worsens, according to federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
He said the focus was on parts of Melbourne at the moment but that was constantly being reassessed.
"At this stage, what we see is that the focus is the north and the west of Melbourne.
"I don't think that anybody can rule out that (a state lockdown) if the disease continues to spread, there could be further restrictions.
"I think it's very important to be open and honest about that. At this stage, again, it appears primarily urban Victoria.
"But we actually have to respond to the facts as they occur and we've always identified this notion of rings of containment, of isolating the hotspots and then working out from there."
He said the outbreak in Victoria was "very serious".
"To have the unprecedented closure of the border, not done in a hundred years, that is a sign that we have seven states and territories with effectively zero community transmission, one state, in particular, the north and the west of Melbourne, with a very serious outbreak," Mr Hunt said.
BORDER CLOSES FOR FIRST TIME IN 100 YEARS
For the first time in 100 years, Victorians will be physically blocked from entering NSW as the state's second wave of COVID-19 mounts.
It was Victoria's darkest day of the coronavirus crisis, with two new deaths and a record 24-hour spike of 127.
The Victorian-NSW border will shut at 11.59pm on Tuesday and police will patrol the 55 border crossings between the two states.
Restrictions are already in place for residents of Melbourne and its surrounds, with the final hours of the open border for regional residents only.
Hundreds of Australian Defence Force personnel will also be deployed along the state's northern border.
The border rules have already caused chaos for national A-League soccer, with three Melbourne teams attempting to escape the state last night left grounded at Tullamarine because of fog in Canberra.
The A-League is now desperately relying on extraordinary government exemptions to allow its season to get underway with Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western United stuck in Victoria.
Under the new scheme, NSW residents will be able to enter Victoria but will have to apply for a permit to return home and self-isolate for two weeks.
Everyone entering from Victoria would need to apply for and be granted a permit, with fines applying to anyone caught lying on their application.
The finer details as to who will be eligible for a permit to cross the border have not yet been revealed, but emergency services workers and freight drivers are not expected to need one, and permits are expected to be granted to those living in border communities.
But authorities have warned of long delays getting into NSW as the credentials of anyone trying to enter the state are verified.
Special provisions will be put in place for border communities, including Albury-Wodonga, but other residents returning to NSW from Victoria will have to quarantine for 14 days.
The closure follows crisis talks between Premier Daniel Andrews, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday morning.
"All three of us agree that this was the appropriate step to take right now," Mr Andrews said.
"I apologise for any inconvenience that will cause people who have unavoidable travel to New South Wales."
Mr Andrews said the closure would be enforced by NSW "so as not to be a drain on resources that are very much focused on fighting the virus right now across our state".
"We have got quite a bit to go on with at the moment and that's where our focus and energies have been … and will remain."
Mr Andrews said travel to NSW would be permitted for essential work and health services reasons but holidays would be banned.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said police would use drones and check-in points to make sure there were no illegal border crossings.
Victorians from virus-plagued hot spots who try to enter NSW already face jail time and an $11,000 fine.
The mayors of Albury and Wodonga have been left reeling by the decision.
"It is a s--t storm and we are just going to have to manage as best we can," Albury mayor Kevin Mack said.
"The regions are being held to ransom because of poor decisions made in Melbourne."
Wodonga mayor Anna Speedie said: "This is going to be a huge challenge for our community.
"We have 100,000 people who interact as one economy and one community. To be directly affected because a few people in Melbourne have been selfish is very frustrating."
"We have absolutely followed the rules and now our economy is being directly affected because others have not behaved as they should have."
Ms Berejiklian said there was no timetable on when the border closure would be lifted.
"This is unprecedented in Australia. That is why the decision of the NSW is unprecedented," she said.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk welcomed the border closure.
"We have had to make tough decisions for the health and wellbeing of Queenslanders, which included closing our borders," Ms Palaszczuk said.
"Last week we made the decision to maintain the border closure with Victoria."
State Opposition leader Michael O'Brien said the rest of the country had turned its back on Victoria.
"To think that Victoria alone is now locked in is devastating for families and businesses," he said.
The border between the two states was last closed in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.
PRIVATE SCHOOLS CANCEL SPORT
A major private school in a Melbourne lockdown suburb has cancelled all upcoming winter sport, as other elite schools reconsider their sporting programs in light of rising coronavirus numbers.
Penleigh and Essendon Grammar, which is located in Keilor East, has advised parents no sport training or Associated Public Schools matches will be played by its students in July and early August.
Director of sport Catherine Lane said it was "very disappointing that the teams that have worked so hard will not be able to play".
It comes as principals from a dozen mid level Catholic schools, attended by thousands of mainly male students, have abandoned plans to resume interschool sport in term 3.
Associated Catholic Colleges, which includes CBC, Whtefriars, St Joseph's Geelong, De La Salle, Emmanuel, Mazenod, Salesian, and Parade, announced a busy schedule of interschool hockey, footy, soccer, cross country, basketball and table tennis, on June 23.
"Towards the end of Term 2, there were very positive signs that the strategies in place from federal and state governments for the suppression of Covid-19 were working effectively. The recent dramatic increase in localised infection numbers, along with the return of lockdown protocols in certain areas of Melbourne, provide a clear picture that there is still a long way to go in suppressing this virus.," the association said.
"The safety and wellbeing of the students, staff and families within our school communities will always be the most important factor in any decision regarding our programs returning. As such, there will be no interschool sport or activities until there is advice from the Victorian Education Department and the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria that it is safe to resume."
FOOD, CRISIS SUPPORT ARRIVES AT TOWERS
Dozens of firefighters have arrived at the North Melbourne towers.
They received a safety briefing before being deployed to deliver food to hungry residents.
The firefighters have dressed in personal protective equipment and will soon assist in the effort.
Crisis workers covered head-to-toe in protective clothing are preparing to enter the public housing tower on Sutton St in North Melbourne.
The workers are carrying bags of groceries to be delivered to hungry residents.
These deliveries can't come soon enough for some residents who are anxious they won't have enough supplies to get through the hard lockdown period.
One resident screamed out that he was hungry and had not received food on Tuesday morning.
A heavy police presence remains at each of the nine towers.
It comes as residents demand the hard lockdown be downgraded and police retreat from inside the towers.
Voices from the Blocks, a coalition of residents in the North Melbourne, Flemington and Kensington public housing estates, on Tuesday called on the Andrews government to replace the hard lockdown with Stage 3 restrictions like other hotspot suburbs.
This would mean public housing residents would be free to leave their homes for food, medical care, exercise and care-giving.
Residents have also called for police officers to withdraw from inside the housing towers and implement infection prevention measures such as cleaning communal spaces and distributing masks.
The coalition also called for COVID-19 testing sites to be located within walking distance to the towers rather than inside the buildings to reduce the risk of infection and better coordination in the supply of food, medical and social services.
UNREST MOUNTS AT LOCKED-DOWN TOWERS
Fed-up residents inside one of Melbourne's quarantined housing commission towers have clashed with police after they were denied access to food donation drop-offs on Monday night.
Footage obtained by the Herald Sun shows rows of boxes stuffed with food outside the foyer of 130 Racecourse Rd, Flemington, with a desperate mother pleading with police officers to access the donations.
But she was denied, with the incident escalating into a screaming match.
A second video also shows boxes and bags of food donated by "mosques and other organisations" lined up outside the Flemington public housing tower.
A resident shooting the film says: "They're (police) saying the food might be contaminated, and we can only take what we give you."
Victorian Greens MP Ellen Sandell confirmed the disturbing incidents.
She said she was "alarmed" to hear State Emergency Service volunteers were "taking away individual food donations" at the Flemington towers and escalated the issue to the Premier's office.
A man attempting to flee Victoria's public housing towers has allegedly bitten police, as frustration at the unprecedented lockdown flared.
The 32-year-old man was arrested on Monday as he attempted to leave one of the Flemington high-rises, before a fight broke out and he allegedly bit the officer.
He was last night questioned over assault and resisting police, as well as breaching the coronavirus restrictions.
It came as residents of the nine towers, locked in their homes for at least five days, claimed they had not received essential supplies and were frustrated by a lack of communication from authorities.
The Herald Sun has been told essentials including baby formula, nappies, feminine hygiene products as well as milk, bread and fresh produce were in short supply.
Some food deliveries were dumped on doorsteps as people slept.
Flemington tower resident Steve Ulu said he was caught offguard by the immediate lockdown and had no chance to shop for groceries to see him through the five days.
As of 2pm Monday, no authority had knocked on his door and he had not been tested for the virus.
He said he was eating food from his freezer, but hadn't received any bread or milk.
"There were limited boxes of food distributed, but there wasn't enough for everyone," he said.
The 38-year-old runs a carpet upholstery business and said the lockdown was "disastrous" for his livelihood.
"I've had to cancel all my work, it is a real setback," he said. "I've been working toward saving for a house deposit so I can get out of here. It is a bummer."
North Melbourne tower resident Ahmed Dini, 32, said a lot of people were angry and that "DHHS need to pull their socks up".
"The criminalisation of our community is unacceptable," he said.
"Right now we have 500 armed police officers telling us what we can't do. We understand the situation and the need to control the spread of the virus, but we don't need such a heavy police presence and to be treated as prisoners."
Supermarket giant Coles has donated 2000 boxes of groceries and has repurposed its Coburg store to continue supplying groceries and care packs.
Coles chief operations officer Matt Swindells said "it's the right thing to do".
Facing claims that residents had been left without food, Premier Daniel Andrews said milk and bread had been delivered on Monday morning, in addition to thousands of meals and care hampers from Foodbank, FareShare and other community organisations.
"This is a massive task and the message to everybody in the towers - and indeed all our partners and everybody across the state - those staff, thousands of them, are doing the very, very best they can," he said.
Victoria Police and the members' union appeared at odds on Monday with association secretary Wayne Gatt casting doubt over whether there were enough officers to keep the towers locked up.
He said that despite a promise from Mr Andrews on Saturday, an officer had not been stationed on every floor.
"Look, they don't have the resources that they need," Mr Gatt told 3AW. "They barely have got the resources they need to secure the outside of the premises properly.''
Mr Gatt said Victoria should consider calling in the army - a suggestion hosed down by Chief Commissioner Shane Patton just hours later.
"We have legislative power and authority to be able to conduct certain activities and that's why we are there," he said.
At least 500 police officers per shift have been tasked to guard the towers and block entry and exit points.
Mr Patton said the 16,000-strong force would redeploy officers from other areas as required, as it did during other emergencies such as bushfires.
"We absolutely have a clear plan," Mr Patton said.
CALL FOR WATCHDOG TO PROB TOWER LOCKDOWN
A leading legal expert in Victoria is calling for the state's integrity watchdog to probe the lockdown of Melbourne housing towers amid fears unrest may rise in the coming days.
Jeremy King, principal at Robinson Gill Lawyers has called for the Victorian Ombudsman to monitor the situation closely warning people's "liberties have been curtailed" and independent oversight was crucial.
"People's liberties have been curtailed so quickly, someone independent definitely needs to monitor this like the Ombudsman," Mr King said.
"My understanding is police didn't know what was happening until the last minute and then there were 500 officers swarming the buildings.
"There may be legal consequences that arise from the conduct of police."
Currently more than 3000 people remain in lock down in the public housing and at least one resident has already been arrested attempting to escape.
A judicial inquiry has already been announced into the bungled hotel quarantine program by retired Family Court, Children's Court and County Court judge.
However, the latest call for the Ombudsman to investigate comes after concerns have been raised over the independence of the parliamentary committee overseeing handling of the coronavirus crisis.
A-LEAGUE IN CHAOS AS FOG STRANDS FLEEING MELBOURNE TEAMS
The return of the A-League has been thrown into chaos with the three Melbourne-based teams left stranded following a failed 11th-hour bid to sneak across the NSW border on Monday night.
Just nine days out from the first fixture of the remainder of the season, the A-League is now desperately relying on extraordinary government exemptions to allow its season to get back underway - with three teams stuck in coronavirus-hit Melbourne.
Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Western United had originally planned to fly to Sydney on Tuesday morning, ahead of the midnight border closure - which has come into effect due to the huge spike in case numbers in Victoria in the past week.
However the border lockdown shifted forward 24 hours, forcing a mad scramble from the three teams who frantically assembled their squads late on Monday night in an attempt to get them across the border - a plan which came up short.
FAMILIES STEEL THEMSELVES FOR GREAT DIVIDE
Families will be split across the Murray River from Wednesday, as businesses on either side scramble to prepare for the looming border shutdown.
Kyra Wright owns Lé Beat Dance Academy in Lavington, in NSW, but many of her students travel from across the border.
She said the academy had only just reopened after a 12-week shutdown.
"A lot of (the students) have been wondering when we can get back to dance and now we're just not sure," she said.
"Kids are asking why some of their friends can and they can't."
Ms Wright said Victorian parents had called to ask whether their kids could still attend dance class as they worked their way through the "confusing process".
"This year was supposed to be our big concert to celebrate our 10th anniversary, but like everything, that's been put on hold," she said.
Wagga Wagga man Andrew Birks said he would be separated from his son and daughter-in-law, who had a baby just four months ago.
"They are from Rutherglen so we haven't been able to see them too much over the lockdown period, but this does split the family up," he said.
"We had said we wanted to see them soon but then with the announcement we met up with them in Albury for lunch before saying goodbye until we can see them again."
Wodonga resident Pam Stevens said she was "very worried" she might be cut off from her elderly parents over in Albury from Wednesday.
"I come over three or four times a week to take them to appointments, bring meals and do shopping so I will really need a permit to continue to do that," she said.
Leigh Madgwick, from Moama in NSW, rode his bike across the border bridge into Echuca, Victoria for work this morning.
"There's no checks there or anything," he said of the other side of the Murray River.
From midnight, people from greater Melbourne were banned from entering NSW, with all Victorians to be cut off at midnight tonight.
Despite the restrictions, there was free passage across the bridge with a steady stream of Victorian vehicles entering NSW.
Mr Madgwick works at Woolworths in Echuca and said locals hadn't received any information about how the border closure would work or how to get a permit to cross state lines.
"The thing is, closing these borders is just not on," he said.
"We've got the hospital, we've got the bank (in Echuca).
"If I don't get a permit, I might have to work at the Moama Woolworths."
It came as NSW Health confirmed it was investigating two suspected cases of coronavirus in Albury.
"One suspected case had recently travelled to Melbourne and had returned prior to hotspot travel restrictions coming into force," it said.
Toby Banham, from the Mornington Peninsula, hired a houseboat with his wife Michelle and two sons Ashton, 9, and Joel, 11, for the school holidays.
They'd been told by the boating company they were permitted to remain on the Murray River - the river is officially part of NSW.
"Until we're told we can't go on the river, we'll keep going," he said, from Echuca.
They were only mooring on the Victorian side of the river.