Victoria Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton yesterday apologized for comments he made singling out Melbourne’s Afghan community in relation to a COVID-19 outbreak in the city of Casey.
Sutton made the apology as Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced 21 new COVID-19 cases and seven more deaths in the state.
It was the lowest number of new cases in the state since June 24.
Melbourne’s 14-day new case average was 39.3, well below the state’s target of 50.
Andrews said the declining numbers showed that the state’s strategy is working.
“Those numbers tell a powerful story of what can be achieved when you stay the course,” he said.
“When you don’t get sidetracked by some of the loudest voices, who I understand are hurting and want to open up … but we won’t be open for very long if we don’t first get these numbers down to a low level.”
There are 834 active cases in Victoria, 806 of which are in Melbourne and 28 in Victoria. More than half the total — 433 cases — are in aged care.
The state’s death toll has risen to 757 and the national count is at 844.
Public health authorities have raced to stop infections growing in the Casey and Dandenong council areas on Melbourne’s southeast rim, which now has 90 active cases, three of whom have been admitted to hospital.
Five households in Clyde, Cranbourne North, Hallam and Narre Warren South are linked to 34 active cases.
Contact tracers discovered members of each house had been breaching the 5km travel limit for visits.
A special team has been created to target the cluster, with the government saying that it is in conversation with local community members and leaders.
Sutton yseterday said that it was wrong to single out the Afghan community in reference to the cluster, describing his remarks as “inappropriate.”
Sutton had said earlier in the week said that he was attempting to engage with the Afghan community in Casey as a priority and the Herald Sun reported yesterday that the community felt scapegoated by his comments.
“First up with an apology. Some members of the community might have felt singled out by statements I made recently. That was absolutely not my intention,” he said. “[Afghanistan] is a country a love and respect and its people. So I apologize.”
Sutton said when he made the remarks he had been reflecting on his volunteer work in Afghanistan in 1997 and 2003.
He said he wanted to reinforce that all communities were doing their best to care for those closest to them.
“I inadvertently called out Afghanistan, which I think was inappropriate, but I was just reflecting on my experience of working with diverse communities internationally in humanitarian work and the fact that there really is a universal human experience,” he said.
In New South Wales, a further three cases were recorded in the 24 hours up to 8pm on Friday.
Queensland yesterday marked another day with no new COVID-19 cases as the state prepares to further reopen its borders. It has been nine days since Queensland has recorded a community transmission of COVID-19, while its number of active infections has fallen to 22.
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