Victorians urged not to panic buy meat

Tough new restrictions have begun for businesses and workers in Melbourne.
Tough new restrictions have begun for businesses and workers in Melbourne.

Victorians are being urged not to panic buy meat as the state's abattoirs cut back operations, under industry restrictions to help slow the spread of coronavirus in workplaces.

The reduced production is part of a sweeping stage four Melbourne lockdown that has progressively come into effect since Sunday.

Victoria recorded 471 new cases of COVID-19 and eight more deaths on Thursday, far fewer than the record-breaking 725 cases and 15 deaths reported on Wednesday.

A senior Victorian health official said the state would have fared far worse if it hadn't gone into stage three lockdown in early July, possibly reaching 20,000 cases by August 12.

It came as Premier Daniel Andrews announced guidelines on how industries can operate under the latest restrictions.

From Friday, beef, lamb and pork processing plants and abattoirs across the state will be reducing their operations to two-thirds of their normal output.

Poultry producers will operate at 80 per cent.

Supermarket distribution centres, meanwhile, have an extension until midnight Sunday to reduce staffing by a third.

The premier urged people not to "stockpile months and months of food" in response to the changes.

"You may not necessarily be able to get exactly the cut of meat that you want but you will get what you need," Mr Andrews told reporters on Thursday.

Some 300 cases of coronavirus in the state have been linked to meatworks since the start of the pandemic, while about 80 per cent of new infections since mid-May have been driven by transmission in workplaces.

It's prompted a tightening of what industries are considered essential, with retail, manufacturing and construction also scaled back in metropolitan Melbourne from Thursday.

People allowed to work on-site must have a permit or official work ID or face fines of up to $19,826, while employers could be fined $99,123 for issuing a false permit.

Regional Victoria entered stage three restrictions overnight, with residents only able to leave their homes to shop for food and essential items, to provide or receive care, to exercise, and to work and study if they can't from home.

The state's shutdown is expected to strip as much as $9 billion from the national economy over the three months to September, according to federal modelling.

The national unemployment rate is also expected to peak at almost 10 per cent.

Mr Andrews said the tough restrictions were the "only way" the state would drive down cases.

"'I'm not for a moment saying businesses are happy about this. They're not, I'm not, workers are not. This is not the position we wanted to find ourselves in," he said.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said if Victoria had continued on the path it started on June 25, when 20 cases were recorded, the state could have reached 20,000 by August 12.

"Clearly we are not even at 2000 cases but certainly the numbers at the moment are certainly too high," he said.

Professor Cheng said he expects case numbers to drop within the next 10 days, disputing figures published by The Australian newspaper claiming average daily cases would peak at 1100 by the end of next week and stay above 1000 for a week after.

He and Mr Andrews said they had never seen such modelling.

Meanwhile, during a marathon media conference that lasted more than 90 minutes, the premier fended off repeated questions relating to the state's botched hotel quarantine program.

Genomic testing has revealed the program could be linked to a significant number of cases, if not all cases, in Victoria's second coronavirus wave.

He said it was "not clear" which government department had oversight of the program nor who trained the security guards involved.

"I don't have those answers," he said.

Australian Associated Press