Australia's Federal Government overturned a rule in November banning private residential aged-care staff from working at multiple sites in a move that could prove very costly.
News broke on Monday that a staff member at the Arcare Maidstone aged-care facility had become infected with Covid-19 after working at Blue Cross aged care in Sunshine.
Three new locally acquired cases were today linked to private aged care, including the son of a worker who previously tested positive from Arcare Maidstone, the staff member who worked at the two facilities and a resident in her 90s from Arcare Maidstone.
Public aged-care facilities in Victoria, managed by the Victoria government, have rules in place banning staff from working at multiple sites.
But private aged care facilities in Victoria, managed by the Federal government, allow staff to work at more than one site.
News.com.au has confirmed that a ban was implemented in private residential aged care last year following the Covid-related deaths of 655 Victorian aged care residents, but the ban was lifted on November 30.
Shadow Minister for Health Mark Butler said on Monday that the PM should be held accountable.
"This latest outbreak in aged care is a direct result of Scott Morrison's gross negligence and dangerous complacency," he told reporters.
"The Government needs to explain why they thought the risk had receded to such a degree that it was able to lift the ban that was in place last year."
In an email to private residential aged care staff on Monday, they were told they "should limit their work to a single facility", but it is not being mandated.
'It is a risk wherever it occurs'
Victoria's Acting Premier James Merlino said it is "absolutely relevant" that Morrison should be quizzed about allowing staff to work at multiple venues when the risk to residents is so high.
"To add to the comments I have made, it's a very simple proposition," he told reporters.
"Public sector aged care [is a] state responsibility … we have clear policies in place that has made sure workers don't work across sites.
"Private sector aged care is a Federal Government responsibility, these are absolutely relevant questions everyone is asking, they should be put to the Federal Government."
Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton said allowing staff to work at multiple venues should be prevented wherever possible.
"It is a risk wherever it occurs, it doesn't matter if it is public or private but the question as to how it is effectively enforced, supported financially or otherwise in terms of policy, is a question for the Commonwealth," Professor Sutton said.
"It is not a question for me. It is a risk wherever it occurs. There needs to be support and policy settings to minimise that to the fullest extent possible. I understand that some settings will have critical workforce issues, people can't move between settings.
"But the risk is manifest in a needs to be minimised to the fullest extent possible."
Victoria's Health Minister Martin Foley was blunt in his assessment of the situation.
"Covid-19 cases are back in our residential private aged care system and that is not a good thing," he said.
"It is a very serious thing that Professor Sutton has indicated, these are a high-risk setting.
"I don't have to remind people in Victoria and Australia [of] the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has on fatalities ... in residential aged care settings."
Arcare on Monday released a statement after a second team member and the elderly resident tested positive.
It said the resident had received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and was displaying mild symptoms before being taken to hospital.
One of the infected staff members did not receive the first dose of the vaccine because she was on "personal leave when the vaccinations took place".
Arcare said 53 of the 76 residents had consented to receiving the first jab of the vaccine.
Situation 'incredibly serious'
It comes as Victoria is grappling with 11 cases of coronavirus from the past 24 hours, with hopes the state's lockdown could still end at midnight on Thursday seeming less and less likely.
Merlino said the state had recorded another six cases today after the midnight cut-off and health authorities were "urgently" investigating them.
Merlino said the situation in the state was "incredibly serious" and it was likely the outbreak "may well get worse before it gets better".
"In the past 24 hours we identified many more points of concern. In addition to the very worrying cases in private aged care, we are very concerned about the number of other high-risk exposure sites," he said.
"We are seeing a small number of cases infecting a large number of contacts. There is no doubt, the situation is incredibly serious. The next few days remain critical."
The state is now dealing with 51 community transmission cases linked to the Melbourne outbreak, with another nine in hotel quarantine.
Today's 11 cases were detected from 43,874 tests in the past 24 hours.
More than 4200 Victorians have been identified as primary close contacts and are in isolation.
— with Natalie Wolfe