Victoria Covid update: children’s cancer ward declared an exposure site as rapid antigen test trial announced | Victoria

Vulnerable children and their carers have been forced into isolation at the Royal Children’s hospital in Melbourne after the cancer ward was declared a tier 1 Covid exposure site.

The hospital’s chief executive, Bernadette McDonald, said no patients on the Kookaburra ward had tested positive for coronavirus yet. But a parent of a child being treated for cancer had tested positive after visiting the ward, she said.

“Every time we get an exposure site across the hospital it’s concerning to all of us, and we’re trying to minimise that as much as possible. But we do know Covid in children is not as extreme.

“We’re glad we’ve got lots of single rooms so we can isolate people quite safely.”

McDonald said the hospital had been balancing limiting exposure to Covid with allowing carers to visit children.

“We are finding a balance between allowing mums and dads and carers to come in – just a single person with a child – so that their care is maximised and they feel less anxious when they have someone with them,” she said.

The exposure declaration came as Victoria announced more than 2m rapid antigen tests would be trialled across the state’s healthcare system as it battles surging Covid case numbers.

The Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, said on Wednesday that 2.2m rapid antigen tests had been ordered, after approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and would be part of a broader range of testing measures to reopen as the state pushes towards its vaccination targets.

Victoria recorded 1,420 new local coronavirus cases and 11 deaths on Wednesday, the highest daily number of coronavirus deaths in the state this year. It was the seventh consecutive day of case numbers above 1,000.

Foley said rapid antigen testing would be a big part of the state’s reopening armoury and would be rolled out across the healthcare system and in risky Covid settings such as schools, childcare centres, corrections and emergency services.

Some 1,200 employees had already completed testing trials three times a week on level crossing projects and in the emergency department at the Royal Melbourne hospital.

“As we move towards a different way of managing this virus as a vaccinated population … we can now broaden our range of innovative testing measures and implement rapid testing technology to support standard PCR testing,” Foley said.

Rapid antigen testing is not considered as effective as a standard PCR test. However, results are known within 15 to 20 minutes.

Five hundred and twenty-five people were being treated in hospital with Covid-19, including 94 in intensive care and 53 who required ventilation. Just 6% of those hospitalised were fully vaccinated.

Asked whether the Victorian health system needed to be ramped up, Foley said “yes, is the answer”.

Covid ICU numbers in Victoria v ICU capacity

“It is not an issue of shortage of facilities, PPE, equipment, it is ICU nurses and specialist staff to monitor people in hospital settings – they don’t grow on trees,” Foley said.

“It is frontline healthcare workers who are fatigued after 20 months of this incredible effort they have put in … everyone involved in the healthcare system has been working like Trojans over the last 20 months.”

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Just over a quarter of Wednesday’s new cases were in Melbourne’s western suburbs; four in 10 were in northern suburbs and a quarter were in south-east and eastern suburbs.

There were 80 new cases in Victoria’s regions, with concern over an escalating outbreak in Greater Shepparton. There were 15 new cases in Shepparton overnight, two unlinked.

There were 14,410 active cases across the state.

There were 36,542 vaccine doses administered at state-run hubs, and “well over” 90,000 statewide. Almost 84% of Victoria’s over 16-year-olds had received a first vaccination dose, and 54% were fully vaccinated.

Covid hospitalisation rate in Victoria

The government also announced some changes to border restrictions between Victoria, New South Wales and ACT.

From midnight on Wednesday 6 October, the border restrictions between the three jurisdictions would be eased as the “relative risks” changed in light of vaccinations and the state’s national plan.

Red zones in NSW and the ACT will move to orange zones, and extreme risk zones will move to red zones.

Victorians and non-Victorians returning from orange zones need to have a test within 72 hours after arriving and wait for a negative test result, while travellers from red zones can return to Victoria and home quarantine for 14 days if they complete an online application.

“We are confident the risk continues to be mitigated in NSW; we want to make sure that we continue to keep a close eye on that and if there are further changes to be made in due course, we will … let everybody know,” Foley said.

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