As Victorian cases stabilise, NZ investigates possible Melbourne link

New Zealand is investigating whether its recent COVID-19 infections could be linked to a Melbourne cold storage facility.

As Victoria shows signs the worst of its horror second wave has passed, NZ authorities are leaving “no stone unturned” to find the source of its sudden outbreak.

Particular focus is being concentrated on a Melbourne cold storage facility where two workers recently tested positive for the disease.

New Zealand’s earliest identified case was also a worker at an Americold storage facility in Mt Wellington, Auckland,

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said he has been speaking to his counterpart in Victoria, where the company has facilities.

Genome testing was underway on employees in Melbourne to see if there were any connections.

However Americold’s CEO for Australia and New Zealand, Richard Winnall, declared the Melbourne site in question had never shipped frozen sea freight to their Auckland facility, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

It comes as Victoria experienced a dramatic fall in deaths from the coronavirus announced on Saturday but authorities warned the low number was likely just a “blip”.

The state recorded a further four deaths and 303 new cases on Saturday, its second-lowest daily tally this month after Thursday’s 278.

Case numbers are gradually decreasing, with the seven-day average down to 344 from 521 a week ago.

But authorities say more progress is needed before stage four and three lockdown restrictions can be eased for Melbourne and regional Victoria.

“The signs are encouraging but it is not over,” Premier Daniel Andrews said on Saturday.

“There is a long way to go and the only thing that wins if we get fatigue, if we were in any sense to give up … is the coronavirus.”

Authorities aren’t sweating an additional 202 so-called mystery cases, taking the total number with an unknown source to 3383.

Mr Andrews noted it was a “very, very big increase” but reminded people contact tracing is finalised in bunches.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton said Victorians should be filled with hope that restrictions were working but reiterated that there was no room for complacency.

In the past week alone, 101 Victorians have died from COVID-19.

Saturday’s deaths – two men and one woman in their 80s and one woman in her 90s – take the state’s toll to 293 and the nation’s to 379.

It’s Victoria’s lowest death tally since August 1 when two people died but isn’t being hailed as a turning point.

“It probably is a blip,” Mr Sutton said.

“It is always pleasing not to have a day of 10 or 20 deaths; they are awful days.”

Two of the four deaths were aged care residents.

Like active cases more broadly, infections in aged care (2041) and among healthcare workers (1178) are stabilising but Mr Sutton said there were still “far too much”.

There remains 661 people in hospital in the state and 41 in intensive care, 28 of them on a ventilator.

The majority in hospital are from aged care settings, Mr Sutton confirmed.

New Zealand has reported seven cases of the new coronavirus for the past 24 hours as a lockdown in the country’s biggest city, Auckland, was extended in response to the country’s first coronavirus outbreak in months.

The country has recorded 37 coronavirus cases spread within the community and 19 cases from travellers in hotel quarantine.

The developments come after more than 100 days of zero community transmission.

Russia’s first vaccine batch

Russia says it has produced the first batch of vaccine for COVID-19, according to Interfax news agency, but there are widespread concerns that trials have not been completed.

Some scientists fear Moscow may be putting national prestige before safety amid the global race to develop a vaccine.

Russia has said the vaccine, the first for the coronavirus to go into production, will be rolled out by the end of this month.

Its approval comes before trials that would normally involve thousands of participants, commonly known as Phase III.

Such trials are usually considered essential precursors for a vaccine to secure regulatory approval.

The vaccine has been named Sputnik V in homage to the world’s first satellite launched by the Soviet Union.

President Vladimir Putin has assured the public that it is safe, adding that one of his daughters had taken it as a volunteer and felt good afterwards.

Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, which developed the vaccine, said previously Russia would be producing about five million doses a month by December-January, Interfax said on Saturday.

Brits rush home to beat quarantine

Brits rushing home from abroad before new quarantine measures are enforced have paid top dollar for flights and transport.

As coronavirus cases increase in Europe, the UK government said anyone arriving from France, the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks and Caicos, and Aruba must self-isolate for 14 days.

Tens of thousands of people paid higher prices to get the last seats on planes, trains and ferries to reach Britain ahead of the quarantine requirement.

The surge in demand meant some air fares were six times more expensive than usual.

Carriers filled up fast, and P&O Ferries, which operates between Calais and Dover, urged passengers to only come with a valid booking.

A spokesman said 12,000 people tried to book tickets in the hour after the new rules were announced on Thursday, compared with just hundreds normally, Britain’s Press Association news agency reported.

France is the second most popular travel destination for British tourists after Spain and hundreds of thousands of travellers are likely to need to quarantine when they return after the deadline.

A spokeswoman for Abta, a travel trade association, said the government’s decision would “result in livelihoods being lost unless it can step in with tailored support for the travel industry.”

-with AAP

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