VICTORIAN sheep, goat and veal meatworks Cedar Meats anticipates resuming livestock buying next week, despite the COVID-cluster connected to the business growing by 13 cases to 62 in the last 24 hours.
The company is continuing to plan its plant re-opening as the Victorian Opposition calls for an independent inquiry into how the Andrews Labor Government has handled what is the state’s largest coronavirus cluster.
The company today said it stilled planned to start operations at its west Melbourne plant on Monday 18 May. Cedar Meats said it will address what new hygiene or operational measures it will be putting in place before it opens.
Victorian Premier Dan Andrew’s office said yesterday if the facility’s livestock buyers have had no contact with the meat processing facility or staff in the previous 14 days, have no symptoms and are feeling well, they are free to conduct their usual activities, but physical distancing and hygiene requirements would need to be met.
Mr Andrews today said 14 more people had tested positive to coronavirus in the state over the past 24 hours, lifting Victoria’s COVID-19 total to 1454. He said seven of the new Cedar Meats cases were workers and six were close contacts of meatworks staff.
Mr Andrews said the state’s contact tracing team involved more than 1000 people “and that team may well have to grow when we move inevitably to a situation where some of the restrictions we have put in place are eased.”
“I won’t say it is inevitable, but it is likely that if we loosen up some of the restrictions we have in place we will see more and more outbreaks,” he said.
“And I am very confident that the team, which is as massive team of committed Victorians, they are among the best in the world at what they do, will continue to do that job in the interests of every single Victorian, their safety and the recovery from this global pandemic.”
Mr Andrews said the symptoms of the affected Cedar Meats workers was that their COVID-19 symptoms were “in the main mild and I don’t believe that there is anybody in hospital.”
He said state and federal agencies were working closely together on the cluster.
“But I am very confident that the contact tracing team and Professor Murphy has made it very clear, have done everything possible and done it to the highest of standards to trace every single person connected to each and everyone one of these cases.
“The agriculture department is looking at those matters and we are working closely with them and other government agencies and we will wait and see what comes of it.”
Referring to the case of initial Cedar Meats worker who tested positive for COVID-19, Mr Andrews said “he said he hadn’t been at work for four weeks, we’ve no reason to believe that he was and therefore, the only connection is who pays him.”
“There is no connection in terms of sites, or the notion that he got it at his workplace, or he gave to anyone at his workplace, because he wasn’t at his workplace – that’s the basic logic to this.”
Mr Andrews expected that just about everybody at the workplace would be tested.
“I am confident that everything that can be done is being done by a dedicated team of contact tracers.”
Cedar Meats has reiterated it is not for it to say if its staff do shifts at other plants.
Victoria’s Liberal Nationals coalition is claiming the State Government failed to act for about three weeks after the first positive result at Cedar Meats, with workers not told and the Premier and Health Minister keeping the name of the business secret.
Leader of the Opposition, Michael O’Brien, said Victoria’s largest coronavirus cluster centres on Labor donor Cedar Meats; a fact that the Andrews Government tried to keep secret.
“For three weeks after the first Cedar Meats employee was confirmed as infected, there are now questions whether the government failed to properly follow up and trace.
“Employees and others were kept in the dark,” he said.
“We now have Victoria’s biggest coronavirus cluster because Daniel Andrews’ government has dropped the ball.
“Public confidence and public health demand a full independent inquiry into this mess.”
Shadow Minister for Health, Georgie Crozier, said Daniel Andrews and his Health Minister need to forgo their secrecy and start to be open and transparent.
“The Andrews Government has let down Victorians, its let down every worker at the plant, the meat processing industry in general, every transport operator, couriers or taxi driver that visited that site unknowingly.
“The Premier needs to put politics aside for the benefit of all Victorians who have so many questions that need to be answered – in a way that is independent of his government,” she said.
The state’s Department of Health and Human Services today confirmed that the first case in the Cedar Meats COVID-19 cluster was diagnosed on 2 April. But the department said the worker had not been at the workplace for four weeks prior to this, so the workplace was not considered an exposure site.
The department has continued to maintain it does not name the sites of outbreaks unless the outbreak poses a significant public health risk. The Premier’s office has also said the department does not identify individual cases or their close contacts to ensure patient confidentiality, as is legally required.
Sheep Central contacted Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services and the Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos yesterday for comment on the call for an inquiry, but received no response.
A State Government spokesperson said today, the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee of Parliament is conducting an inquiry into the government response to coronavirus.
“Made up of members from all sides of politics, this committee examines the state budget every year and is best placed to review the coronavirus response.”