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Australian Lamb Colac abattoir cluster could expand, Riordan MP Says

ABC South West Vic / By Daniel Miles and Jane McNaughton

Concerns are being raised a coronavirus cluster at a south-west Victorian abattoir could lead to a significant outbreak in regional Victoria.

Key points:

  • Twelve cases of coronavirus have been linked to Australian Lamb Company's Colac abattoir

  • The Victorian Government says it's working with the company to conduct contact tracing

  • A local MP is fearful the cluster could get out of hand

Australian Lamb Colac has closed for at least fourteen days after nine workers tested positive to COVID-19.

Last Friday, a contractor employed at the processing facility was in self-isolation following a positive result, and several schools in Colac have also closed over coronavirus concerns.

The company says all workers employed at the site have been instructed to quarantine and the abattoir continues to work with health authorities.

Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes said the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Agriculture Victoria had been working closely with Australian Lamb Colac.

The ABC understands Agriculture Victoria chaired a meeting with the company over the weekend. 

"They have certainly responded very well as an employer and been very concerned about their staff," Ms Symes said.

"[Australian Lamb Colac] has made sure all of their staff have been tested, cleaning the facility, and WorkSafe are also on site supporting them.

Fears of significant cluster

Member for Polwarth Richard Riordan said he was concerned the outbreak could turn into a significant cluster in country Victoria.

"The Department of Health and Human Services has been very, very slow to work with key employers and other organisations affected by this current diagnosis," Mr Riordan said.

"So we're now looking at this town, these organisations, having to work together themselves to solve this problem."

Richard Riordan is urging Colac residents to act as though they are bound by the stage 3 coronavirus restrictions.

Australian Lamb Colac is one of two Victorian abattoirs battling coronavirus, with an outbreak at a JBS abattoir in Brooklyn, west of Melbourne, linked to 35 infections.

Trinity College Colac has shut its doors until Thursday after one its students, whose parent works a Australian Lamb Colac, tested positive to COVID-19, to allow further testing and tracing to be completed.

Ms Symes said her state opposition counterpart's criticism of the Labor Government was off-the-mark.

"That's completely false, and it's quite insulting to industry that have been working very hard for months with Government," she said.

"The Australian Meat Industry Council have been providing detailed advice and support to meat processing facilities with targeted guidelines for managing coronavirus risk during the pandemic."

Mr Riordan said the community was being forced to handle the bulk of the contact tracing itself.

"The community has no information as to when the person first contracted it, how it came to town, whether it was workplace related or other, and these are serious questions that need immediate answers to help put a pin on it," he said.

"It's a recipe for disaster when the Government, three days into knowing about this, has really effectively provided no support or resources.

"The school's been put on notice with the staff and students. There's an estimate in excess of 100 immediate close contacts to the student there.

"My call-out to the local Colac community is for everybody to adhere to stage 3 restrictions in terms of really taking care of yourselves, not to go out unless you absolutely have to and to, where possible, if you can't keep a safe distance wear masks locally."

Win for the bush telegraph

The response from the Colac community to the outbreak has been heralded as a win for the country 'bush telegraph'.

Mr Riordan said a number of the town's biggest employers had been meeting regularly to devise a strategy on how to best handle a positive case in the town.

"I guess it's reminiscent of the fact that during times of crisis, whether it's bushfire or flood, country communities have the ability to work very well together," Mr Riordan said.

"What we need is State Government to support that networking and let country people use practical, sensible solutions to get on and keep the community safe."

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