Police fined protesters in the car convoy $1,652 each for breaching the Chief Health Officer’s directive. (ABC News)
Police have arrested one refugee activist and fined 26 others nearly $43,000 for holding a car convoy protest outside a hotel in Melbourne’s north where refugees and asylum seekers are being detained.
- The arrest comes as the COVID-19 death toll in Victoria rose to 13
- The State Government has announced it will spend nearly $50 million on crisis accommodation for those at risk of family violence and homelessness during the pandemic
- The head of The Alfred’s burns unit has urged Victorians to take care in their kitchens after seeing a spike in patients with severe burns from home cooking
At least 40 men who were brought to Australia under the country’s medevac transfer laws have been held at the Mantra hotel in Preston.
An open letter signed by more than 1,000 doctors and other health professionals last month called for asylum seekers and refugees being held in detention, including hotels, to be released into the community during the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter, authored by Sydney paediatrician and refugee advocate David Isaacs, said that hotels being used as detention sites “constitute a very high-risk environment for detainees’ mental and physical health”.
There are concerns the already unwell refugees and asylum seekers, photographed in late 2019, cannot practice physical distancing in the Preston hotel. (Supplied: Damian Callinan, file photo)
This afternoon, refugee activists mounted a car and bike protest outside the Mantra Hotel calling for the detainees to be released.
Victoria Police said in a statement that one man was arrested and taken into custody for planning the protest, while 26 individuals were fined for their involvement.
Individual fines in Victoria for breaching physical-distancing orders are $1,652, meaning the group were fined a total of $42,952.
Police said the organisers had been warned earlier in the week that officers would be present and would prosecute them if the protest went ahead.
“While Victoria Police respects the public’s right to protest, these are extraordinary times and the health and safety of every Victorian needs to be our number one priority at this time,” the statement said.
“As directed by the Chief Health Officer, there are only four reasons why people should leave their home: to get essential goods and services, for care and other compassionate reasons, to work or study, or to exercise.”
In a statement, the Refugee Action Coalition said organiser Chris Breen was the man who had been arrested and charged and defended its car-and-bike convoy protest method as “quite safe”.
“The police action has deliberately targeted protest action that highlights the government’s hypocrisy on COVID-19 safety,” the group’s spokesman Ian Rintoul said.
“You can leave your home to drive to JB Hi-Fi, but you can’t drive outside a hotel to highlight the lack of safety for vulnerable people who should not be imprisoned.
“Health rules around coronavirus cannot be used to stamp out the right to protest.”
Victorian death toll rises to 13
Meanwhile, Victoria’s death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 13 today and the State Government has announced millions of dollars in spending to help prevent family violence and move rough sleepers into accommodation.
The number of confirmed cases in the state is now 1,241 after 13 more cases were confirmed overnight.
There are now 158 healthcare workers who have contracted the virus, one more than yesterday.
There are 43 people in hospital, seven more than yesterday, and 13 people are in intensive care.
Another 120 people have recovered from the disease, taking the total number of recoveries in the state to 926.
Police have issued another 98 fines in the past 24 hours to people flouting stage three restrictions, and carried out 754 checks on people who should be in self-isolation.
Vic COVID-19 snapshot
- Confirmed cases so far: 1,241
- Deaths: 13
- Suspected community transmissions: 116
- Cases in hospital: 43
- Intensive care patients: 13
- Recovered patients: 926
Updated Friday, April 10
Latest information from the Victorian Government
Elsewhere in the country, a 69-year-old man died from coronavirus complications overnight in New South Wales, bringing the national death toll to 53.
The rise in the national death toll comes as 280 Australians have arrived in Melbourne after leaving a number of locations in Peru.
They immediately boarded buses and were taken to hotels in the city for two weeks of self-isolation.
More Australians stuck in Peru, Argentina and South Africa are expected to be brought home over the next week.
Millions put towards helping domestic violence victims and rough sleepers
The figures come as the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence Gabrielle Williams announced the State Government would invest $40.2 million in crisis accommodation and specialist services for people suffering or at risk of family violence.
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The Government will put $20 million towards short-term accommodation for people who do not feel safe isolating or recovering from COVID-19 at home.
Another $20.2 million will help family violence services meet the expected increase in demand during the health crisis.
The package will include about $5 million for technology and protective equipment and targeted funding will be provided to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.
The Government has also announced a plan to help Victorians experiencing homelessness who need to self-isolate.
Housing Minister Richard Wynne has announced $8 million will be put towards using decommissioned aged-care homes at four Melbourne locations to house 200 people sleeping rough, and provide them with healthcare.
The State Government will provide housing and health care for people sleeping rough in immediate need of accommodation due to coronavirus. (ABC Gold Coast: Damien Larkins)
To be eligible for the program, people must either be waiting on test results, have a positive coronavirus diagnosis, be required to self-isolate but have nowhere to do so, or have been discharged from hospital and require accommodation to recover.
“People without secure accommodation are at greater risk of contracting coronavirus because they can’t self-isolate or quarantine, this will help keep them safe and slow the spread of virus,” Mr Wynne said.
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The housing will be operated by Anglicare Victoria, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Launch Housing, Sacred Heart Mission and VincentCare Victoria with outreach staff providing 24-hour support.
Mr Wynne also said public housing tenants’ rent assessments would not be affected by any Federal Government financial stimulus payments over the coming months.
Police get ready to crackdown on rule-breakers
Lorne’s main beach is closed and almost empty as people stay away due to coronavirus. (ABC News: Margaret Paul)
As the country gears up for a different kind of Easter, authorities around Australia are pleading with people to remain at home and not travel to regional or coastal areas this weekend.
The ban on public gatherings means Victoria’s church leaders have had to come up with novel ways to keep their communities connected.
St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral is streaming Easter services on its Facebook page and YouTube channel, and Temple Beth Israel is continuing to run services through its virtual synagogue on YouTube.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne will stream its Easter mass on its website as well as its YouTube channel.
On Thursday, Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville said police would be checking on travellers on roads and in tourist hotspots to make sure they were complying with coronavirus restrictions.
State MP for South Barwon Darren Cheeseman has called for Surf Coast Shire Council to close all beaches this weekend to deter people from travelling to the coast.
“They should be closed to all activity, including surfing, swimming, fishing, walking, and sunbathing,” he said in a Facebook post on Thursday.
Triple zero calls, emergency department presentations down
Meanwhile, Victorian emergency departments have reported a 20 per cent drop in patients with injuries as the state’s stage three lockdown continues.
The Department of Health said there had been a reduction from an average of 5,000 patients per day to 4,100 per day.
But while there had been an overall drop in the number of people presenting to emergency departments, some areas have seen an unexpected spike during the lockdown.
Police officers will be making sure people obey stage three restrictions this Easter long weekend. (AAP: Scott Barbour, file photo)
Heather Cleland, director of the Victorian Adult Burns Service at The Alfred, said the hospital had received “an influx of patients with severe burns” from home cooking and barbecuing.
“If you are going to be cooking, please pay attention,” she said.
“And if you’re going to be barbecuing, please, please do not throw accelerants like methylated spirits or petrol onto the fire to try and get it going.”
However, hospitals and medical professionals have expressed concern that emergency department numbers might be down because people were delaying vital treatment.
Triple zero calls have dropped off since coronavirus restrictions came into force in Victoria. (ABC News: Seraphine Charpentier Andre)
Stroke Foundation chief executive Sharon McGowan said some patients who were worried about being a burden on the health system or contracting COVID-19 at a hospital were not seeking help when they needed it.
“We’ve already heard from our clinicians on the ground of two cases where individuals with the early signs of stroke actually delayed calling triple zero,” Ms McGowan said.
Ambulance services across Victoria have also seen a 20 per cent drop in emergency calls prompting Ms McGowan to urge Australians not to play down medical emergencies during the pandemic.
“We must be looking after ourselves in Australia. Every stroke is a medical emergency, every stroke is a triple zero call.”
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