Tag: State Government

Schools in the Barossa Valley region to close after ‘cluster’ of 34 coronavirus cases identified

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Schools in South Australia’s Barossa Valley region will be shut from Monday, with SA Health raising concerns about an increasing number of positive cases from the region.

Key points:

  • A coronavirus cluster has been identified in the Barossa Valley region
  • SA Health has called for schools in the region to be shut to help control the spread of the virus
  • South Australia now has 299 confirmed cases of the virus

South Australia’s chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier said on Sunday a cluster of 34 positive cases from the region had been linked to two groups of tourists from the US and Switzerland.

The towns of Tanunda, Nuriootpa, Williamstown, Angaston and Lyndoch have been identified as of high concern, and as a result, all schools, early childhood facilities and out-of-school services will be closed from Monday.

The move came as 12 new cases were recorded in the state on Sunday, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 299.

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Seven of the new cases are linked to the Ruby Princess cruise ship, taking the number of positive cases from that ship up to 68.

The state’s new cases range in age from 20 to 70 years, and there are no further suspected cases of community transmission.

Dr Spurrier said the closure of schools in the region was designed to get on top of the cluster of cases.

“What we’re trying to do is reduce non-essential travel in that area,” she said.

“It’s not that the schools themselves are considered at risk, but it is a way of reducing the amount of travel.”


The Department for Education said principals were in the process of notifying parents and staff. (AAP: Dan Peled)

Anne Millard from the SA Department for Education said work was being done to identify each of the schools impacted.

She said principals were now in the process of contacting every parent and staff member affected.

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“One of our immediate actions is to work across the sectors of schooling and making sure everyone is moving as one,” she said.

Dr Spurrier urged people in the area to restrict their movement as much as possible and asked people to avoid travelling in or out of the region.

She also urged anyone who had travelled to the region since Saturday March 14 and developed symptoms to immediately self-isolate and seek testing.

“If we can put some effort into that [region] now, what it’s doing is it gives us an opportunity to stop that ongoing community spread,” she said.

Patients to be housed at Adelaide holiday park

Earlier today, SA Health Minister Stephen Wade announced coronavirus patients requiring community care could now be accommodated at an Adelaide holiday park.

Mr Wade said housing and treating people at the Marion Holiday Park, in Adelaide’s south, would ease mounting pressure on the state’s emergency departments.


The Marion Holiday Park will be used to house coronavirus patients. (Facebook: Marion Holiday Park)

He said the additional accommodation was part of the State Government’s plan to moderate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic ahead of any potential surge in patient numbers.

Flinders Medical Centre staff will assess and care for patients and their families at the facility.

“If any patient deteriorates, the close proximity of the Flinders Medical Centre means they will be able to have access to medical care,” Mr Wade said.

“We’re able to support local jobs, we’re able to provide care for people with COVID-19 when they need it, we’re able to ease the pressure on emergency departments.”

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Mr Wade said those eligible for the accommodation and care at the holiday park would include vulnerable people, those in shared accommodation and students.

“It’s an environment where we can support strong infection control,” he said.

He said the holiday park had about 60 units and could accommodate up to 250 people.

The facility will add to the 278 beds secured at ECH College Park, the old Wakefield Hospital, and the Repat Centre in Adelaide.

Opposition calls for free parking for hospital staff

The announcement comes as the South Australian Opposition called for the State Government to waive hospital car park fees for staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

After raising hospital car park fees to more than $700 per year, Mr Wade said the Government was considering its options.


The SA Opposition has called for free parking for doctors, nurses and workers at hospitals. (ABC News: Brett Williamson)

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas this morning urged the State Government to offer a reprieve for doctors, nurses and hospital workers.

“These people are literally putting themselves in harm’s way at the service of others,” he said.

“Now is not the time to be fleecing them with higher hospital car parking fees.”

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He said providing free parking for hospital workers would lower the need for them to use public transport, which could put them at greater risk of contracting the virus.

“We don’t particularly want to see doctors and nurses, who are on the front line, to have to catch public transport,” Mr Malinauskas said.

“That potentially puts people at risk unnecessarily. And providing free hospital car parking is one way we can make sure everyone is kept safe.

“It’s been done in other parts of the world … we can do the same thing here in South Australia, I think it’s something the whole South Australian public would support.”

Fines introduced for breach of coronavirus rules

Yesterday, it was announced that gatherings of more than 10 people would be banned in the state, and fines would be issued to those who failed to follow self-isolation orders.

Premier Steven Marshall said people who disobeyed order to self-isolate would be hit with a $1,000 fine, while businesses “flouting laws” to control the pandemic would cop a $5,000 fine.

“SA Police have established a new team dedicated to enforcing quarantine rules, social-distancing restrictions and business closure rules, and will be knocking on the doors of individuals and businesses to ensure pandemic restrictions are being adhered to,” he said.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Second confirmed coronavirus case in Tasmania amid warning situation could peak at Easter

Hobart 7000

A second person has tested positive for coronavirus in Tasmania as health workers are warned the number of cases could peak around Easter.

Key points:

  • The second case was confirmed in Hobart, but further details have not been made available
  • Last week, a 40-year-old man tested positive in Launceston, in the state’s north
  • Health staff has been briefed about the contingency plan in case of an outbreak

“Public Health Services has been notified of a confirmed case of coronavirus in Hobart,” acting director Scott McKeown said in a statement.

The patient has been admitted to the Royal Hobart Hospital (RHH).

Last week, a 40-year-old man tested positive in Launceston, having arrived from Iran.

He visited the Woolworths store for about 15 minutes before self-isolating.

Hospital staff briefed on coronavirus plan

The cases came in the days after RHH health workers were briefed at a staff meeting about a plan in case the COVID-19 outbreak becomes a pandemic.

They have been told the number of cases could increase over the next two weeks, and peak in six to eight weeks — over the Easter and school holiday period.

They were told epidemiology assessments suggest up to 30 per cent of the population may be affected by it by that time.

While the Director of Public Health, Mark Veitch, disputed that figure — saying it was unlikely 30 per cent of the population would be affected — he said there were more cases to come.

To prepare for worst-case scenarios, a contingency plan has been put in place.

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The plan means that the RHH’s Assessment and Planning Unit will relocate in less than two weeks, and become a COVID-19 assessment unit instead.

Patients who test positive for the virus would be moved to a respiratory isolation ward.

The RHH’s redevelopment, known as the K-Block, is low down the list as a viable option due to ongoing issues with water quality and air conditioning.

K-Block was on track to be completed last month, but the State Government has refused to take possession of the building.

The contingency plan might have direct implications on health staff.

Robbie Moore from the Health and Community Services Union said staff may soon be told annual leave is off the table.

“Part of what they’ve put to us is forcing staff to come back from annual leave. There’s obviously significant issues in relation to that,” he said.

“We have been briefed that they are looking at quarantining people for 14 days, when they’ve returned from certain areas.

“We’re not against that step, but we just want to make sure it’s not coming out of employees’ current entitlements.”

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But a State Government spokesperson said it would be from personal leave.

“In the event that State Service employees currently overseas, or about to go overseas, become ill or are required to self-isolate, they will be covered under the Government’s personal leave provisions,” they said.

Health Minister Sarah Courtney is expected to make an announcement on travel and leave recommendations.

Video: The Virus: 7.30 presenter Jeremy Fernandez takes an in-depth look at the spread of COVID-19.

(ABC News)

Fewer hospitals in Tasmania a disadvantage, expert says

University of Melbourne epidemiologist Kathryn Snow said being an island state had pros and cons when it came to the spreading of the virus.

“I think Tasmania has a bit of an advantage in that it doesn’t get the same volume of international visitors, that say New South Wales or Victoria would get,” she said.

“But at the same time, having a small population who are spread out and less hospitals is a bit of a disadvantage.

“It’s not about the person or the cases that are there right now, it’s about the cases that might come in in the next couple of months and whether they’re identified quickly.”

She said the virus was “relatively infectious”, and quick response could help limit the outbreak.

“We think most people who have the virus pass it on to between one and four other people,” she said.

“And that’s why we’ve seen it take off quite quickly in some countries.”

She said Australia was still in the category of countries that had been able to contain the virus quickly, but these were still the early days.

“It really could go either way, I think. We almost certainly will see more cases coming in,” she said.

She said Tasmanian health sector’s “hope for the best and prepare for the worst” approach was adequate.

“People do need to start changing their habits and getting ready I think,” she said.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Construction documents missing and key strength tests in doubt, dam inquiry hears

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An independent Inquiry into the structural issues of Bundaberg’s Paradise Dam has heard documents relating to its construction are missing, and appropriate core testing of its strength may not have occurred after it was built.

Key points:

  • A commission of inquiry is yet to locate a full construction report for Paradise Dam
  • The inquiry was instigated after technical reports revealed faults originated in its initial construction
  • The dam wall stability is at risk and major flooding is possible if 2013 flood conditions repeated

Commissioner John Byrne gave his opening statement in Brisbane and said the commission would examine the root cause of the structural issues of the dam through documents and reports, and more than a dozen potential witnesses.

In November 2019, the Queensland Government announced an inquiry into the structural issues of Paradise Dam after technical reports showed the faults originated with its initial construction.


SunWater is proceeding with work to lower the spillway by 5 metres to relieve pressure on the dam’s wall. (ABC News: David Shipton)

Mr Byrne said since the commission began its investigation, it had collected, collated, and made progress in analysing more than 30,000 documents and photographs.

“Some documents are of considerable length, and many deal with complex geotechnical, hydrological and engineering matters,” he said.

He said Paradise Dam, which was built by the State Government between 2003 and 2005, was an important asset to the community.

“I recognise that the dam and its future are important to communities in the Wide Bay Burnett region, especially those who rely on the Bundaberg Irrigation Scheme,” Mr Bryne said.

Documents missing

Counsel assisting, Jonathan Horton, however, revealed the commission was yet to locate documents relating to the construction of Paradise Dam.

“We have, for example, attempted to locate a construction report which ought to exist, but a full version of it has not been able to be found,” he said.

Mr Horton said Paradise Dam was constructed with roller-compacted concrete, (RCC) and was one of the first of its kind in Australia, but no strength testing was carried out to determine if the layers had bonded.

“No shear strength testing was undertaken,” he said.

“We wish to look more closely at what occurred in late 2005 and early 2006 with respect to decisions about what could and should be the subject of shear testing.

“What were the decisions made during the course of design and construction about cement content, composition of the RCC mix generally, and the use of bedding mix between layers?”

Inquiry to report by April

Three out of the 13 days of hearings will be heard in Bundaberg and the rest will be in Brisbane, with recommendations to be provided to the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Minister for Natural Resources and Mines by the end of April.

The commissioners are expected to consider SunWater’s technical reports from 2013 onwards that detail structural issues originated with its construction.

The terms of reference state they may seek information from individuals and government bodies involved in the design, construction, and commissioning of Paradise Dam.

A community wanting answers

Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey hoped the inquiry would determine how one of Australia’s youngest dams came to be so flawed, and who was responsible.

“It’s one of the largest infrastructure failures in history,” Councillor Dempsey said.

“Only six months ago we had a reputation for the second most secure water supply in Australia, and that has been affected.

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“Council will be putting forward a submission, whether it be a written or verbal submission.

“We certainly want to ensure that all avenues are looked at, and this certainly goes to the structural investigation.”

Councillor Dempsey said the whole situation had caused friction in the Bundaberg community, with SunWater’s own technical reports stating if the dam failed more than 100 lives would be at risk downstream.

“People with concerns should know that the local disaster management group, and the district disaster management group are well prepared in terms of every contingency,” he said.


Thousands of megalitres of water being released from Paradise Dam into the Burnett River following recent rain. (ABC News: David Shipton)

Questions over the future of Paradise Dam

SunWater is seeking a contractor to begin construction work to lower the dam’s spillway by 5 metres after legislation was rushed through State Parliament earlier this month.

Federal Minister for Water, Keith Pitt, said the State Government bypassed its own environmental laws by allowing the work to proceed without any other environmental or council approvals.

He said the focus should now be on the future of the dam and returning water security for the agriculture industry, which was estimating a $1 billion hit to the state’s economy.

“My view is very straightforward: we make safe, we repair, we restore, or we replace this critical piece of infrastructure for this region,” he said.

“I say to Premier Palaszczuk, safety has to be the first priority, but the second has to be how do we repair, restore, or retain that facility.”

“It will take more than a decade to build anything else or even to get the approvals could take 10 years.”

The long-term future of the dam will be determined by Building Queensland with a report due to be handed to the Government also at the end of April.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

‘It’s a crisis’: Case worker overload draws concern for kids in out-of-home care

Sale 3850

Gippsland children in out-of-home care are being left out of decisions about how often they see their families, where they live, and where they attend school because case workers are swamped with paperwork, a researcher has found.

Key points:

  • PhD candidate Lynda McRae says case workers are supposed to see children in care at least once a fortnight, but this is not happening
  • Her study has found case workers in Gippsland are bogged down in paperwork, and sometimes live a long way from their clients
  • The Victorian Government has appointed a new practice leader position, but Ms McRae says this is not enough to solve the problem

Federation University PhD candidate Lynda McRae interviewed 30 case managers from the child welfare sector in Latrobe City, South Gippsland, Baw Baw Shire, and Bass Coast as part of a research project.

Under both Victorian legislation and human rights law, children should be involved in making choices about their care.

However, case workers said meeting this legal obligation was simply not possible because paperwork took up the majority of their time.

“It’s a real irony, because they’re reporting in but they’re not seeing any of the young people anywhere near the amount they’re supposed to be,” Ms McRae said.


Lynda McRae says children in care are supposed to be seen every two weeks. (Supplied: Lynda McCrae)

“There’s a big gap between what is there, enshrined in legislation and embedded in policy, and what is actually possible and practical on the ground.

“[Children in care] are supposed to be seen between every week to every two weeks, and certainly on the whole that’s not regularly happening at all, and there are anecdotal stories about kids just not being seen full stop before the major decisions are being made about them.”

Sale’s Heather Baird grew up as a ward of the state and runs A Better Life for Foster Kids in Gippsland, which provides clothing, toys, and support to foster families.

She liaises with foster carers on a daily basis.

“Kids very rarely, unless they’re playing up, see a child protection worker. It’s as simple as that,” Ms Baird said.

“I got a question from a carer today … they hadn’t seen any case workers since 2018.

“I’ve heard of kids who have gone for five years without seeing a case worker.”

‘It’s a crisis, there’s no mistaking that’

State Minister for Child Protection Luke Donnellan said the Government had appointed a new practice leader position to try to ensure young people in care had their views sought.

However, Ms McRae said one practice manager was not enough.

“My findings clearly indicate there is far more required in this space than the appointment of one practice leader,” Ms McRae said.

Her study found, while paperwork was a large contributor to the severe lack of face-to-face contact between case workers and kids in care, there were many other factors at play.

“It’s a crisis, there’s no mistaking that,” Ms McRae said.

“There are crisis levels of placement instability because of the shortage of carers coupled with the rise of kids coming into care and the shortage of beds in the region.”


Heather Baird says geographical distance between case workers and children in care was often a problem. (ABC Gippsland: Zoe Ferguson)

Ms Baird said geographical distance between case workers and their assigned children could make visits very difficult.

“We’ve got kids in Sale originally from Wagga Wagga and their case worker is in Preston,” Ms Baird said.

“I’ve got a family in Rosedale and their caseworker is in Portland.”

Mr Donnellan drew on statewide figures and said the percentage of children allocated caseworkers had grown from 81 per cent to 90.4 per cent since 2014.

But Ms McRae said, while the rest of the state might have improved in allocations, inner Gippsland still had the highest number of child protection substantiations in the state.

“I am led to believe [inner Gippsland] has the highest numbers of kids coming into care nationally — hence it is extremely challenging to ensure such a high percentage of kids can be allocated to workers,” she said.

“It would be very helpful if these stats were broken down according to regions.”

A report by the Commission for Children and Young People published in November 2019 showed that in Victoria the number of children in out-of-home care grew from 3,767 in 2008/2009 to 7,863 in 2017/2018.

In that same period, the number of child protection reports received tripled from 42,851 to 115,600 despite a 73 per cent increase in State Government funding.

According to the Victorian Government, there were around 900 foster carers in the state.

Ms McRae said this meant children had limited options to choose from, in terms of their placements, they were also often placed a long distance from their case workers, or were not assigned case workers at all.


Ms McRae said while the rest of the state might have improved in allocations, inner Gippsland still had the highest number of child protection substantiations in the state. (Supplied)

“Frontline workers are saying ‘we’re actually getting further away from [meeting legislative obligations]’,” Ms McRae said.

Case workers told Ms McRae paperwork, compliance and placement instability had spiralled in the past five years. 

“They’re saying it is harder now to see young people than at any other time,” Ms McRae said.

Mr Donnellan said the Government was acting on problems addressed in the study.

“While we know there’s more to be done, since this study was conducted we’ve done an enormous amount of work to increase staff and lower caseloads for child protection practitioners,” Mr Donnellan said.

Ms McRae also noted education levels in staff also varied between Gippsland child protection workers and their metropolitan counterparts.

Despite Gippsland having the highest demand for workers, there was no university-level social work course on offer in the region.

One senior participant in the study said, while the State Government had funded new positions in the sector, there were not enough appropriately qualified people to fill the positions.

“Our teams are slowly starting to fill, but the system is forced to play catch-up and they are doing this with a very inexperienced base, mostly diploma-qualified,” they said.

“I don’t think the Minister and the policymakers truly know or understand that, and the impact it has on the work.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

Aurukun refugees fleeing violence head into Coen township causing shortage of food, shelter

Aurukun 4871

The Cape York township of Coen is struggling to cope with an influx of people fleeing the threat of violence in nearby Aurukun, with a shortage of food, accommodation and basic necessities, and reports up to 20 people are sleeping on the verandas of homes and sharing a single toilet.

Key points:

  • More than 130 people have fled to Coen — usually home to around 360 people
  • About 100 other refugees remain in a veteran-run bush camp outside Aurukun
  • There are concerns time is running out to stock Coen with food before the wet season cuts roads

More than 250 residents fled Aurukun since a riot erupted in the community on New Year’s Day, with police and government departments trying to restore order in the Indigenous community.

Around 130 Aurukun residents have taken refuge in Coen, about 300 kilometres away by road, while more than 100 others remain in a veteran-run bush camp outside Aurukun.

During the unrest in Aurukun, six homes were burnt to the ground and another two were badly damaged when an angry mob of more than 200 people took to the streets armed with makeshift weapons.

The violence followed the fatal stabbing of a 37-year-old man, with two teenagers now charged with murder.

Police said 23 people in Aurukun have since been charged with 79 offences over the riot.

The charges related to the six houses being set on fire, two other houses that were extensively damaged, and other offences.

Twelve people have been charged with arson, police said.


Four homes in Aurukun were burned to the ground and another two were badly damaged. (Supplied: Queensland Police Service)

‘There is just not enough accommodation’

Chair of the Coen Regional Aboriginal Corporation, Dion Creek, said the town had struggled to handle the influx of people.

“We’ve got 20 to 40 people living in one household sharing a single toilet facility and a single bathroom,” Mr Creek said.

“It’s going to have huge implications on people’s health and wellbeing if the housing situation or immediate accommodation for these people who have lost everything isn’t sorted out as soon as possible.”

Coen store owner and publican Barry Mulley said he had seen up to 20 people sleeping on the verandas of their relative’s homes.

“There’s just not enough accommodation there for them,” Mr Mulley said.


Around 130 Aurukun residents have taken refuge in Coen, about 300 kilometres away by road. (ABC News: Casey Briggs)

Mr Mulley said adding more than 130 people to the population of Coen — usually home to around 360 people — has had a huge impact on the town.

“Both the shops in town are getting thrashed with the extra mouths to feed so it’s putting a lot of pressure on them,” he said.

“It’s mainly meat, breakfast cereals, bread and all the essentials that are getting smashed, even toilet paper.”

Mr Mulley travelled more than 550 kilometres to Cairns with a six-metre-long trailer that he intended to fill and return to the town before monsoonal rains cut roads in the region, which would force the town to rely on air-dropped supplies.

He said it was a race against time to both stock the town with enough food for the wet season and to feed the swollen population.

“One truck came yesterday with a load of food for the town and another truck I believe is due to come into town next week, but as soon as the roads close that’ll be it,” he said.


There are concerns time is running out to stock Coen with food before the wet season cuts roads. (ABC News: Richard Dinnen)

Government departments working to help refugees

The Queensland Government has appointed former Aurukun Shire Council chief executive officer Gary Kleidon to coordinate a government response to the situation.

A spokesperson for the State Government said staff from Queensland Health and the Department of Housing and Public Works had been assisting in Coen.

The chief executive of the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service, Bev Hamerton, said Coen’s population growth posed the risk of overcrowding the town.

“Additional displaced people from Aurukun are expected to further swell those numbers in the coming days as the existing displaced persons’ camp at Aurukun gradually empties,” Ms Hamerton said.

“As a precaution, we have sent an additional senior clinical nurse to Coen to support our clinic staff there and have ensured the clinic is adequately stocked with medications and clinical supplies.”


An additional senior clinical nurse has been sent to Coen to support staff there. (ABC Far North: Anna Hartley)

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said in a statement he was “deeply concerned by the ongoing situation in Aurukun”.

“The Queensland Government is leading the response and the Australian Government is supporting their efforts,” he said.

“We made $10,000 available to Kapani Warrior to assist with the immediate support required.

“Further practical support has included working with Services Australia to help affected individuals to apply for crisis payments where eligibility exists and liaising with local employers whose staff have been displaced.”

He said staff from the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) have travelled to Aurukun to work with representatives from Queensland Government departments and agencies.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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