Workers in Melbourne who haven’t had shifts due to the extended Covid lockdown will be eligible for up to $500 in support after the prime minister announced a new temporary Covid disaster payment.
Scott Morrison said on Thursday the disaster payment would be available in areas declared a commonwealth hotspot when any lockdown lasted longer than seven days.
A $500 weekly payment will be available for people who work more than 20 hours a week, while $325 will be available for those who work less than that.
Separately, the federal and Victorian governments are close to reaching an agreement over a new quarantine centre to be built at Avalon.
A memorandum of understanding has been sent from Canberra to Melbourne and it’s expected an agreement will be finalised on Friday to coincide with a meeting of national cabinet. Federal government sources have said while it is not a done deal yet, it’s very close.
Two cases previously linked to the Victorian outbreak were declared false positives on Thursday evening by an expert panel that reviews test results for the health department.
The cases were a woman initially thought to have contracted the virus at a Metricon display home in Mickleham and a man incorrectly believed to have been infected at the Brighton Beach hotel.
“These cases will be reclassified and no longer considered confirmed cases,” the health department said.
The disaster payment announced on Thursday will only go to people older than 17, who were working before the lockdown and who can no longer work. They will need to have less than $10,000 in savings.
There are further restrictions including whether other leave – beyond annual and sick leave – is available to cover the lockdown period. People already receiving income or business support, or the pandemic leave disaster payment, will not be eligible either.
Applications for workers in Melbourne will open on Tuesday through Services Australia.
The payment will not be available to regional Victorians, however, as their lockdown will only last one week. The acting premier, James Merlino, announced on Wednesday that areas outside greater Melbourne would come out of lockdown at midnight on Thursday. The state’s capital city will remain locked down until midnight on 10 June at this stage.
There were three new local Covid cases in Melbourne officially reported on Thursday including a previously announced case in the Arcare Maidstone aged care facility. Victoria’s deputy chief health officer, Prof Allen Cheng, said the two additional cases were a staff member from a Port Melbourne workplace and a child of a previously identified case in Whittlesea.
All three cases were in isolation for their entire infectious period, meaning there were no new exposure sites on Thursday.
Morrison said which level of government would fund the new disaster payment would be discussed at national cabinet on Friday. He said two options were on the table: first, for the state government to pay for business support, as Victoria has done, and the commonwealth to fund individual income support; or alternatively, for the federal and state governments to split the total cost.
Speaking before the PM’s announcement, Merlino said his preference was for the state to cover business support and the commonwealth to handle income support.
“The state responsibility is supporting Victorian businesses and we have done that with almost half a billion [dollars] of support and we will provide further support,” he said. “The federal government [should provide] income support for workers, that is solely their responsibility, and it would be disappointing if they walked away from that.”
The federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said the Treasury and finance department were working to cost the temporary Covid disaster payment. It’s estimated for every 100,000 people it could cost $50m a week, and with half a million casuals in Melbourne, the cost could be $250m just for the next seven days.
Cheng said Victoria was reviewing case numbers every day. It was too early to say if the lockdown in Melbourne would end before 10 June, he said.
Victoria administered 23,192 doses of Covid vaccines on Wednesday and Cheng said the surge had strained supplies of the Pfizer vaccine.
“There is a constraint on the Pfizer vaccines in Victoria,” he said. “If we had more, we would give more, but there is a supply chain. It comes from the commonwealth and that comes from overseas and we are making do with what we have at the moment.”
Morrison said Victoria received 71,000 Pfizer doses of the additional 130,000 made available last week and more could be made available to support requests from the Victorian government.
The prime minister said the federal government respected the decisions of state and territory governments to introduce restrictions based on health advice. But he repeatedly stated the virus should not be feared.
“Resilience, strength, character, determination. That is what beats a virus, never fear,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Merlino said Victoria didn’t want to go into lockdown but followed the health advice which was based on just 2% of the population being fully vaccinated.
“The only way out of this pandemic is the successful rollout of the vaccine. The virus is our enemy and the virus doesn’t sleep. The virus mutates – the virus thinks that this is a race.”