Colac mayor calls for urgent lockdown to control outbreak

By Benjamin Preiss

July 20, 2020 — 6.03pm

Colac Otway Shire's mayor wants a two-week lockdown in his area to curb one of regional Victoria’s biggest outbreaks, as the Victorian head of the Australian Medical Association calls for masks to be mandatory across the state.

The number of cases connected to the Australian Lamb Company in Colac doubled on Monday to 12 and led to the closure of Trinity College Colac, which recorded a positive case.

Geelong, about 80 kilometres east of Colac, had 13 active cases on Monday - the largest number in regional Victoria, resulting in the closure of the Drysdale and Grovedale West primary schools.

Colac Otway Shire mayor Jason Schram said some businesses were closing voluntarily, more people were staying home and many others wearing face masks in public.


He said a fortnight-long lockdown in the area would allow authorities to conduct extensive testing and contact tracing to control the spread of the virus.

"In a small regional town, there’s a heightened level of anxiety and fear about this."

The state government has no plans to extend current stage three restrictions beyond metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, north of the city. However, masks will become mandatory in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire from Thursday.

But Premier Daniel Andrews said each case outside Melbourne was being watched "very, very closely".

In Warrnambool, the Midfield Group meat processing company, which employs more than 1500 workers, closed voluntarily after an inspector visited the site last week and later tested positive.

Company management said the inspector was a close contact of people "caught up in the Colac cluster".

It said all staff would be tested, although are there were no positive cases in Warrnambool, including the meatworks.

As regional Victoria grapples with the coronavirus threat, Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait said the entire state should heed guidelines on masks.

He said there was strong evidence indicating masks could help control the spread of the virus.

"I think if they made it mandatory across the state it would be a good look," Associate Professor Rait said.

He said "masking up all rural Victoria" would prevent "spot fires" that can quickly spread through regional communities.

When asked if Melbourne’s restrictions would extend to Geelong, Mr Andrews said the raw case numbers were "not the best guide" and factors including containment, the number of exposure days to positive cases and contact tracing should also be considered.

He said there had been a noticeable increase in the number of people wearing masks in regional Victoria.

Meanwhile, Albury mayor Kevin Mack has criticised tough new restrictions set to be imposed on border communities by the NSW government.

Travel permits will be cancelled and people living in border communities will have to reapply, even though there are no active cases in Wodonga.

"The Albury-Wodonga and Murray region are quite safe. Why are we being penalised?" he said.

Wodonga mayor Anna Speedie said some businesses would be "inoperable" because fewer people were now eligible for the travel permits.

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