Investigation into possible breaches of infection protocols at Newmarch House

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By Jordan Baker and Pallavi Singhal

NSW Health authorities have identified possible issues with infection control processes at the Newmarch aged care facility, which has been linked to 61 coronavirus cases and 13 deaths.

Two expert infection control nurses were deployed to the facility in Caddens in Sydney’s west this week to report on and help improve infection control practices at the nursing home, where two additional staff members were confirmed as having COVID-19 on Saturday.

“There have been some elements where consistent application of practice has not occurred,” NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said.

“We’re looking at secondary cases, we’ve seen transmission that looks like breaches of infection control, particularly among staff.”

Dr Chant said the infection control experts were working with the providers and staff at the facility to ensure that strict processes around personal protective equipment and other requirements were being adhered to consistently.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he had made his “views on [the outbreak] very clear to Anglicare”, the provider of the facility.

NSW reported five new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday amid near-record testing, with health authorities saying high-risk patients would begin receiving results within an hour due to rapid tests being dispatched across the state. The tests are sourced from the United States, and supply is limited to about 600 per week.

“The faster we can isolate higher risk patients and quarantine their contacts, the less likely they can unknowingly spread it to others,” Mr Hazzard said.

Victoria’s cluster of cases at a meat processing facility grew, with three more cases identified at the company, bringing the total to eight. In Queensland, authorities were urgently tracking down passengers aboard a plane from Melbourne to Brisbane on April 22 after a traveller tested positive.

Meanwhile, new guidelines drawn up by the Australian Institute of Sport with health experts, and endorsed by national cabinet, could pave the way for swimmers to return to the pool, pilates and dance classes to resume and small groups of footballers to do non-contact training drills together.

The guidelines for community activities describe how individual sports could operate if restrictions are eased.

Under the first stage of a two-step plan, sports activities could not have more than 10 people – with one per four square metres indoors – and must ensure there is no physical contact. But they could share equipment such as footballs, weights or skipping ropes.

Athletics could fully resume, as long as participants did not run in the slipstream of others. Cyclists would have to keep to the same rule, as well as stay 10 metres apart. Soccer and football players could do non-contact training drills.

Ten people, rather than the two presently allowed, could gather on a bowling green, while swimmers could use a pool as long as there were limited numbers and only one athlete per lane. Cricketers are under strict instructions to avoid using spit or sweat on the ball.

Gyms, yoga and dance were permitted if they followed social distancing measures, while all sport must involve regular hand washing, and abide by a “get in, train, and get out” rule to minimise use of change rooms.

The national cabinet will meet next Friday to consider relaxing restrictions, but the decision will depend in part on how many Australians have downloaded the COVIDSafe phone applications. Final decisions on sport would be made by local authorities.

“We can expect some variation because of local factors including COVID-19 epidemiology, risk mitigation strategies, and public health capacities,” federal Sports Minister Richard Colbeck said.

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