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Elderly residents to return to St Basil’s Fawkner, site of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreak

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Elderly people, including some still infected with COVID-19, will be returned to the site of Australia’s deadliest outbreak as early as this weekend, under a repatriation plan being developed by St Basil’s Homes for the Aged and the federal government.

Under arrangements to be overseen by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, the Fawkner facility, which evacuated less than a week ago, will reopen under its previous management from Friday with up to 80 hospitalised residents to be gradually invited home.

The chairman of St Basil’s Fawkner, Konstantin Kontis, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that under the repatriation plan, hospitalised residents not in a critical condition will be invited to return in groups of five, with COVID-positive residents to be quarantined from those without the virus. He said the buildings had been deep cleaned and the centre would be run by his regular staff.

Helen Alexiou (left), Maria Vasilakis (centre) and Haralambos Bakirtzidis (right) are among those St Basil’s Fawkner residents who lost their lives to coronavirus.

“We have got a repatriation plan and that is being processed,” he said. “We are under pressure to start taking people back from the weekend if we can.”

Victoria on Wednesday recorded its worst day of the pandemic, with 725 new cases and 15 fatalities in the previous 24 hours. This included Australia’s youngest coronavirus victim, a 33-year-old man. Of the state’s 162 coronavirus deaths, 125 were the result of outbreaks in aged care facilities.

The St Basil’s Fawkner facility, owned and managed by the Greek Orthodox Church, has been linked to 159 COVID-19 cases and at least 20 deaths. There are currently 1435 active cases linked to aged care, and more than 300 aged care residents have been transferred to public and private hospitals.

A spokesman for Federal Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck said the repatriation plan for St Basil’s was conditional on the centre meeting certain standards.

The last remaining residents at St Basil’s Fawkner were relocated last week. Pihoto: Andrew Henshaw.

“The approved provider needs to demonstrate that the service has had a deep clean prior to any residents returning, the adequacy of the returning workforce and that any returning staff have received appropriate training in infection control practices including PPE use,” he said.

St Basil’s Fawkner was placed in the hands of a replacement staff on July 22 after Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton directed the facility’s entire management and staff into quarantine to contain a COVID-19 outbreak. The centre was closed last Friday after all remaining residents were transferred to hospital.

A total of 538 Victorians with the virus were in hospital on Wednesday, including 42 in intensive care. The decision to return some residents to St Basil’s will relieve the pressure placed on Melbourne’s hospitals when they accepted the transfer of aged care residents from coronavirus outbreak sites.

Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng, when questioned on Wednesday about the capacity of hospitals to absorb more aged care residents, said: “Everything has a limit.”

“It is not the preferred option. When there is an outbreak in aged care there is an assessment that is made about what is possible, what is the configuration of the aged care, what does infection control look like, what is the staffing like and what is the clinical need of the residents,” Professor Cheng added.

While 12 of the 15 deaths recorded on Wednesday were linked to aged care, Premier Daniel Andrews said the situation had stabilised at aged care facilities.

“A number of those settings that were in crisis, they have stabilised. In fact, I think all of them could now be described as stable,” he said.

St Basil’s Fawkner has been linked to 159 COVID-19 cases and at least 20 deaths.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, meanwhile, took action against the owners of another aged care facility at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak.

It ordered the Rosehill Aged Care Facility in Highett – due to an “immediate and severe risk to the health, safety or wellbeing of aged care recipients” – to appoint an independent adviser to oversee its operations.

Under a formal notice issued late on Wednesday, the Highett nursing home run by Menarock Aged Care Services will be stripped of its Commonwealth subsidy if it fails to comply with the order.

There are 23 confirmed cases linked to Rosehill, including 19 elderly residents.

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