Locals lend helping hand amid scramble to put lid on Shepparton cluster

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Shepparton’s health service expects more than 16,000 people will need to be tested for coronavirus after a positive case was recorded at another school and as authorities struggled to contain a fast-growing outbreak.

The number of positive cases is expected to rise in the Shepparton cluster after 14 new cases were confirmed on Monday, taking the total linked to the regional city’s outbreak to 36.

People queue for a COVID-19 test in Shepparton on Monday.Credit:Joe Armao

Goulburn Valley Health chief executive Matt Sharp said a positive case linked to Notre Dame College meant several thousand people connected with the school would need to be tested, blowing out initial estimates of 10,000 to 11,000 tests being required in the community.

He said the school had about 1600 students and 300 staff.

“If you add that up with household contacts of all of those people and their families, we’re looking at several thousand people who are also going to need testing,” he said.

Three schools have been closed in the area, including St Mel’s Primary School and multiple campuses at Greater Shepparton Secondary College.

Mr Sharp said at least 10,000 people connected to the Shepparton outbreak would need to isolate.

About 270 Goulburn Valley Health workers have been furloughed after being exposed to the virus, Mr Sharp said.

He has requested extra resources to test about 3500 people a day.

The streets of Shepparton, which is forecast to reach a population of 70,000 this year, were all but abandoned on Monday and most businesses were closed. The usually busy Maude Street Mall, which runs through the centre of the city, was almost devoid of foot traffic.

The abandoned streets in the centre of Shepparton. Credit:Joe Armao

All of regional Victoria was sent into lockdown on Saturday as the Shepparton cluster grew.

In Wangaratta, 23 staff members at Northeast Health were in isolation on Monday after a man who tested positive for coronavirus attended the hospital. His case has been connected to the Shepparton cluster.

A hospital in Mansfield also treated a COVID-positive patient.

By Monday afternoon there were 50 exposure sites in Shepparton, five in nearby Invergordon, 11 in Bonnie Doon and one in West Bendigo.

Four drive-through testing sites have been set up in Shepparton. Credit:Joe Armao

Police were also investigating reports that hundreds of people attended a funeral in Shepparton on August 11, including mourners who travelled from a locked down Melbourne.

Mr Sharp said he was aware of the reports, but there was nothing to suggest any link to the local cluster.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton told radio station 3AW police were investigating whether a “large funeral” exceeded capacity restrictions.

Premier Daniel Andrews was not aware of the funeral and asked Victorians not to jump to conclusions, as he praised the Shepparton community for its response to the outbreak.

“The people of Shepparton are doing it very tough at the moment, but they’re doing an amazing job,” Mr Andrews said.

“They’re coming out to get tested in strong numbers, they’re getting vaccinated in strong numbers, they’re working with contact tracers.”

Mr Andrews said businesses in Shepparton were supporting fellow residents, including restaurants providing food to people who needed to isolate.

Lutfiyes Shish Kebab owner Azem Elmaz, who has for years handed out meals for people in need, has been making 30 to 40 hampers a day of free food to deliver to the doorsteps of isolating families around Shepparton with the help of volunteers.

Azem Elmaz has been provding free meals to people who have to isolate. Credit:Joe Armao

“Now it’s more, sadly, because people [are] isolated – they can’t come out, plus they’re doing it a bit tough, losing their jobs,” Mr Elmaz said.

“So, it’s getting a little bit tough, it’s getting a bit hard for the families.”

Mr Elmaz, who has a medal of the Order of Australia for his charity work through People Supporting People, said the streets were empty as the regional city experienced its third day in lockdown.

“To be honest, it’s sad. The street is totally dead. But we hope, we pray for good. We hope everything goes back to normal soon.”

Ethnic Council of Shepparton manager Chris Hazelman. Credit:Joe Armao

Ethnic Council of Shepparton manager Chris Hazelman said he had been working with Health Department officials to identify further sites for testing.

He said the council was working with vaccination centres to provide staff to translate for people who did not speak English.

Mr Hazelman said Shepparton residents had turned out in large numbers for testing.

“The response has been amazing,” he said.

“It absolutely swamped the testing stations from day one.”

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