BALLARAT has been marked as a regional virus epicentre with a new pop-up fever clinic to open in Sebastopol under a state government testing blitz to rein in the deadly spread.
The increase in COVID-19 testing, including expanded capacity at existing centres in Lucas and central Ballarat, are a bid to flatten the curve and avoid putting major regional hubs Ballarat, Geelong and Bendigo under stage four lockdowns.
UFS chief executive officer Lynne McLennan, whose organisation runs the Lucas screening clinic, said testing capacity was not the real issue in Ballarat. Ms McLennan is calling for greater awareness to "dob in a dimwit" via the official coronavirus hotline.
Ms McLennan said there was a minority in Ballarat who chose to flout the rules or dodge tests and continued to put the whole community at risk for selfish gain.
While Ms McLennan welcomed the government's investment in testing resources for Ballarat, she said her team had credible reports of managers discouraging staff from getting tested, instead fostering a culture of presenteeism for people showing respiratory symptoms.
She said there were also constant cases of people mixing with friends while waiting for test results.
As of close of business on Thursday, there were still testing appointments available at the Lucas clinic that evening and for Friday at both the Lucas and Litttle Bridge Street clinics. Ms McLennan said there were no excuses for not being tested.
Ballarat Health Service confirmed it would deploy its Rapid Response Testing Team to operate the pop-up clinic at the BHS public dental clinic in "coming days". Bookings for people with symptoms, BHS staff and their family with symptoms, and people who have been advised by health department contact tracers to get tested.
The Sebastopol site housed COVID-19 testing under the state's initial stage three lockdowns, including a testing blitz in early May.
BHS' rapid response team has led efficient mobile pop-ups in targeted testing on major businesses and school staff through the pandemic.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flagged extra testing sites for Ballarat, Geelong and Bendigo as a response to "significant growth" in cases and to encourage anyone with the mildest of symptoms to get tested.
There were 492 active COVID-19 cases in regional Victoria as of Thursday. Ballarat (24 active cases), Geelong (172) and Bendigo (52) recorded more than 250 cases in the past fortnight. While Geelong has the highest proportion of regional infections, Ballarat has the highest regional growth rate in the past week.
A key issue is the mystery cases, not linked to known infections or clusters.
"As far as some of those worrying trends in those three large regional cities, this testing push over the coming days and weeks will be a really important way in which we can be confident that we're finding all of the virus that's there," Premier Andrews said.
There remains no avenue for asymptomatic testing in Ballarat, except via a general practitioner (in the clinic or by referral) or if notified by the health department contact tracing team.
Ms McLennan said this was creating stress in the community, for example when a potential case was linked to a school.
"The best thing you can do if you're concerned is self-isolate," Ms McLennan said. "People don't understand how (testing) works until they need to know...People are obviously stressed and anxious."
Meanwhile, Victoria's deputy chief health officer Allen Cheng said officials had considered moving Ballarat, Geelong and Bendigo under stage four lockdown. He said more testing could obviate this need.
You can anonymously report someone you know who is not doing the right thing and breaching isolation - the coronavirus hotline phone number is 1800 675 398 (option 4) and reports will be followed up by police.
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