Daniel Andrews government faces legal fight as regional Victoria prepares to ease restrictions and state reports 42 new coronavirus cases and eight deaths
The Andrews government is facing three class-action lawsuits over the lockdowns imposed during Melbourneâs second wave of coronavirus, with potentially thousands of plaintiffs seeking damages.
Victoria reported 42 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and eight people died of Covid in the preceding 24 hours.
This week a Melbourne legal firm, Carbone Lawyers, filed a claim on behalf of workers who had lost income or suffered psychological damage due to strict social distancing laws. The managing partner, Tony Carbone, told Guardian Australia more than 100 plaintiffs had signed on prior to Wednesday.
âThe office has been inundated today,â he said. âWe have even fielded inquiries from people who are incarcerated, ringing and saying because of the second lockdown they have been locked in their rooms â the psychological damage that would cause.â
The Carbone-led action alleges the Victorian governmentâs mishandling of the hotel quarantine program led to the second wave of infections and subsequent lockdowns.
âIn terms of proven negligence, I think itâs going to be pretty straightforward, Iâm just going to rely on their own doctors and epidemiologists,â Carbone said. The lead plaintiff is Jordan Roberts, a 21-year-old who lost work at a Tullamarine warehouse in August after stage four lockdowns were imposed.
The Sydney-based law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan launched a class action against the state government last month on similar grounds, representing Melbourne businesses closed or had their income seriously damaged following the stateâs second wave.
A Mornington Peninsula cafe owner and Liberal party member Michelle Loielo, has also mounted a legal challenge against the Victoria governmentâs coronavirus curfew, arguing it is putting her small business at risk.
The premier, Daniel Andrews, said on Wednesday he âsimply canât be drawn on those sorts of mattersâ when asked about the class actions. It would be inappropriate for him to comment, he said.
From midnight on Wednesday regional Victoria will progress to the third step in the stateâs recovery roadmap, as Melbourne met the threshold to move to step two.
Wednesdayâs numbers moved the seven-day average to 49.6. As it is now below 5o average daily cases, the city meets the threshold required to move to the second step of reopening at the end of the month.
âThe fact that we are in the 30 to 50 band should be a point of pride, absolutely. But we are making an assessment â¦ about being in the [band] not just for a day, but for a decent period, for a significant period, then weâll be able to make that call,â the Labor leader said.
As of midnight on Wednesday, regional Victoria will begin to open up. Groups of up to 10 people can meet outside, hospitality venues will be allowed some dine-in service and the staggered return of students to classrooms will begin for term four.
This easing of restriction has necessitated the tightening of the âring of steelâ around Melbourne, with long lines of cars stretching back from key checkpoints around the city.
âTheyâll talk about checkpoints that will be permanent. Theyâre talking about a high percentage of cars that will be stopped. Itâs almost certain that if you think youâre going to break these rules, A, youâll be in a queue for a fair while, and, B, you will get asked to demonstrate why youâre travelling to regional Victoria,â Andrews said.
Andrews announced that from Thursday elective surgeries in regional hospitals would return to 75% capacity and Melbourne hospital would meet this target on 28 September â signalling the easing of pressure on the Victorian hospital system.
The health minister, Jenny Mikakos, said hospitals would slowly build their capacity, returning to 100% when the state moved to the last step of the roadmap, notionally on 23 November.
âThis timetable replicates the road map and itâs been developed in consultation with our public health experts,â she said. âWe want to make sure that thereâs the capacity there to respond to outbreaks, whether itâs in particular aged care outbreak or an outbreak in the hospital itself or other significant outbreaks in the community.â
Outpatient and dental appointments would also be increasing capacity in the coming weeks and return to treating non-urgent patients.
The premier flagged that there may be funding for a surgery âblitzâ in the future to help work through the backlog of elective procedures.
Victoria police were involved in a number of controversial incidents over the weekend, including a mentally ill man who appeared to have his head stomped on by an officer while being arrested. Earlier this month it was alleged there was a âviolent assaultâ of an Indigenous man who was left with a broken arm after police spear-tackled him off his bike as he rode to work.
The police revealed on Tuesday that new officer training on how to deal with people suffering mental health crises had been delayed due to bushfires and Covid-19. The premier said the police force was aiming to restart these programs as soon as possible.
âNo one takes any joy in cancelling those sorts of programs,â he said. âI would think that the mere fact that the program training was scheduled and funded by the government, gives you a sense that thereâs an acknowledgment in Victoria police â¦ that having the best understanding of how people who are in absolute crisis will perhaps act [is important].â
Andrews acknowledged that not every police incident in recent days was due to citizens not cooperating with police or providing their details and that matters of inappropriate use of force should be fully investigated.
âI donât think there are many leaders in this country who have acknowledged the abject failures in our mental health system more clearly and more impactfully than I have than the government I lead. A royal commission thatâs on at the moment will give us the answers we need and a massive reform agenda.â
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