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Regional Victoria needs permanent public health teams

As the number of Covid-19 cases linked to the Colac abattoir continues to climb, it is clear that numerous State public health teams should be established permanently across regional Victoria.

Unlike some other states including New South Wales where public health teams are located in every part of the state, the Victorian Government’s public health team is located in Melbourne’s CBD.

As a regional Senator for Victoria, I am deeply concerned about the confusion which arose at the Colac abattoir after one contractor was discovered to be positive.

Colac Area Health and the Colac abattoir were proactive in how they responded, determining that everyone should be tested.  But they did not have enough public health support and leadership on the ground, and for two days the wrong advice was provided to some workers.

As reported in the Herald Sun on 27 July 2020, it took the State Government more than two days to declare that every worker was deemed to be a “close contact” and should be tested and required to self-isolate.

As a result, many abattoir workers moved through the Colac community, unaware of the risk they posed to others.

There also appears to be continuing confusion about the public health protocols which apply at Victorian abattoirs when a positive Covid-19 case is identified.  This needs to be urgently clarified.

While Barwon Health has now taken on a public health contact tracing role, it does not have the power to issue public health orders.

Permanent public health teams located across regional Victoria would have the capacity to support local communities as soon as any issue arose, including the power to make public health decisions such as workplace closures and self-isolation orders.

28 July 2020

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