Cases tipped to rise in Shepparton as authorities call for more testing

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Authorities in Shepparton fear people who have visited exposure sites are still not coming forward for testing as the regional city braces for more COVID-19 infections over coming days.

The Shepparton outbreak was Victoria’s fastest-growing cluster on Thursday –18 new infections were reported as more Australian Defence Force personnel arrived to help with the response.

ADF personnel conduct COVID-19 tests at the Shepparton Showgrounds on Thursday. Credit:Justin McManus

There are now 85 active cases in the cluster, but Goulburn Valley Health chief executive Matt Sharp warned that the numbers would increase in coming days.

He issued an urgent call for people who were symptomatic or had been to an exposure site to seek coronavirus tests.

“I’m not sure why people wouldn’t come forward to be tested,” Mr Sharp said. “It’s a pretty straightforward thing to do.”

He said there were no longer lengthy queues for tests, which were being done within an hour.

About 50 Defence personnel have been allocated to testing sites while up to 20 are visiting homes.

Shepparton now has more than 60 exposure sites. About 20,000 people are in isolation, including at least 500 staff at Goulburn Valley Health.

More than 4500 of the 20,000 are in 14-day self-isolation after being identified as primary close contacts, contributing to stress on Shepparton’s essential services, including supermarkets. Many residents have struggled to buy groceries or receive deliveries of supplies.

Defence personnel were also helping out with ensuring people were following instructions. Credit:Justin McManus

In response, Victoria’s Deputy Emergency Management Commissioner, Deb Abbott, was deployed to the city on Wednesday night.

Premier Daniel Andrews said Ms Abbott would work with senior government officials and emergency services to co-ordinate relief.

“She’ll be running that as if it were no different to a bushfire or a flood,” Mr Andrews said.

“That emergency management architecture will be in place. But it will be in the main very, very simple things: taking food to people’s doorsteps, getting scripts filled, doing all those sorts of things.”

Mr Andrews added that Victoria was planning to request additional ADF personnel to assist those already in Shepparton.

COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said the growing nature of the outbreak meant most of Thursday’s fresh cases were not in isolation during their infectious period, generating additional tier 1 exposure sites including a Shepparton East community centre and Bourchier Street Primary School.

“It’s been a very fast opening of that particular outbreak. We expect, I think, to find more cases over the coming days. But we are seeing a very, very strong response by all the local partners,” Mr Weimar said.

However, thousands of Shepparton residents may be allowed to exit their 14-day isolation early as the public health team is considering downgrading some exposure sites from tier 1 to tier 2.

The Health Department reviewed the exposure sites and testing results of the almost 20,000 people who are in isolation, and may determine several sites could be downgraded, Goulburn Valley Health has confirmed.

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