Healthcare workers to be given free accommodation under $20m ‘hotels for heroes’ plan

Healthcare workers who are under strict self-isolation orders will be housed in hotels and apartments to protect vulnerable members of their household and prevent the spread of coronavirus, under a $20 million plan announced by the Victorian government on Sunday.

Staff will be given free accommodation if they have tested positive to COVID-19, or been exposed to someone who has the disease, in a bid to reduce the financial burden for frontline workers who are most at risk of contracting coronavirus.

Premier Daniel Andrews addresses the media on Sunday.Credit:AAP

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos unveiled the "hotels for heroes" plan as her department revealed 20 Victorians tested positive to coronavirus overnight, bringing the state's total to 1135.

"We do know from overseas experience that healthcare workers, sadly, are at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19," Ms Mikakos said.

"And whilst we've gone and ordered an unprecedented amount of personal protective equipment to keep them safe, and we have prioritised them for testing, we need to do everything possible to ensure that they get our support."

The move to accommodate healthcare workers comes after 100 staff were forced to self-isolate at The Alfred following a COVID-19 outbreak, while staff at three other hospitals have also gone into quarantine after being exposed to coronavirus.

The Health Department has not been able to ascertain the source of the cluster linked to The Alfred, but Premier Daniel Andrews said in the majority of cases the affected workers had contracted the coronavirus overseas or through being exposed to someone who had travelled overseas.

"I think it's important to acknowledge that yes, we have a number of healthcare workers who tested positive. The vast majority of healthcare workers have not contracted the virus as a result of their work," Mr Andrews said.

"That's not to downplay or in any way diminish the important work that our front-line workers are doing, and there is an element of risk there.

"But I hope that in the reporting of this, we can remain focused on the fact that the vast majority, 80 per cent-plus of those health workers who have contracted the virus, have not got it from patients."

Clinical and non-clinical staff, including paramedics, patient transport staff, cooks and cleaners, will be able to access the "hotels for heroes" scheme, and the government expects to support up to 8000 workers.

The scheme could be expanded to include workers in other industries.

It comes as Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said social distancing and self-isolation measures were helping to flatten the curve and "for the first time" he was optimistic that Victoria could take a different course to countries around the world, where health systems have been completely overwhelmed with coronavirus cases.

Of the 20 new coronavirus cases, two were acquired locally – the smallest daily increase in local transmission cases in the past 10 days.

"I think, you know, for the first time, I have a little bit of optimism that we could actually beat this," Dr Sutton said.

"That we can avoid the literally millions of cases that will occur in North America and Europe and the tens of thousands of deaths unfortunately that will occur between two continents. And we're seeing just the beginning that we can take a different course."

Dr Sutton said he was still reviewing the rise in coronavirus cases to determine whether Victoria should face further restrictions and enter into stage four.

"But if we can drive numbers down and we can take them down, then we've got the best chance of avoiding stage four," he said.

The Premier said while he did not want to detract from the early positive signs the curve was flattening, he warned people not be complacent or assume the strict restrictions would be lifted within a week."

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